Big Tech and Kids.

Big Tech and Kids.

In the New York Times review of “Who’s Raising the Kids?” Professor Zephyr Teachout adamantly supports Dr. Susan Linn’s argument that access to self-directed play has been hijacked by purveyors of big tech.

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Big Tech and the Screen Addicted Kid. Who’s Responsible?

Sadly, big tech and kids is a trending topic today. As technology becomes more prevalent in our daily lives, concerns about screen addiction in children are growing.

Dr. Susan Linn, a child psychologist, warns us against social media apps.  Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Snapchat can have negative effects on children’s development and natural play.

Who’s Raising the Kids?

In the New York Times review of “Who’s Raising the Kids?” Professor Zephyr Teachout adamantly supports Dr. Susan Linn’s argument. Access to self-directed play has been hijacked by purveyors of big tech. Teachout observes:

“A recurring motif in fairy tales is the parental figure who pretends to care, but in fact sees children as a nuisance, a meal ticket or a meal. Think Hansel and Gretels witch, scores of wicked stepmothers or the bonneted wolf in Little Red Riding Hood.”

Are Social Media Platforms the 21st Century Brothers Grimm?

In “Who’s Raising the Kids?” Linn shows how tech companies like Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat have morphed into a society-wide incarnation of these Brothers Grimm monsters. They pose as caregivers, cultivate affection and attachment in children. The platforms use psychological insights to prey on their weaknesses, patiently fatten them up —that is, train them in consumption — all the while viewing children as profit centers.“

a Screen Addicted Kid using mobile phone

“According to Susan Linn, the average American 8-to-12-year-old child spends over five hours a day online, almost all of it passively watching, and not — as some tech companies claimed — interacting…”              

Teachout continues: “Linn is not anti-tech, and in fact celebrates its ability to connect and open us to new experiences. She is simply, insistently, opposed to advertising to children, and her goal is to protect this vulnerable population from exploitation by ad companies. She advocates for banning the particularly intrusive targeted advertising business model, wherein tech companies gather data and serve up ads based on the unique characteristics of underage users.”  

Children playing outdoors during a CPI workshop in Nepal

Natural play during a CPI workshop in Nepal.

 

Big Tech and Kids – The impact it has on kids

In an interview with CPI, Linn is concerned that in the U.S., adults “do a lot to prevent children from playing.” One reason is that the nature of play is misunderstood. We assume that giving kids fancy toys and devices that substitute their own programming for their innate creativity is an advance over what kids might naturally contrive.

“A good toy is 90% child and only 10% toy.”

Essentially, adults have it backwards. “The one big inhibitor of creative play,” Linn asserted, “is commercial culture. Kids play less effectively with media-linked toys.”   

What are these companies’ objectives? The “false promise,” which Linn and Teachout decry, hides a sophisticated effort to promote consumerism. The companies profit off ads that market products to kids. 

In Linn and Teachout, Children Have Powerful Advocates  

Linn has fought against direct-to-children marketing since the 1990s. She provides an unvarnished look at our dystopian world where children sit slack-jawed in restaurants watching unboxing videos. Digital technology is “more pervasive, more invasive, more sophisticated, more manipulative, and more devious than ever,” she says.

Are Social Media Platforms the 21st Century Brothers Grimm?

Linn and Teachout are the perfect pair. For years, Teachout has vehemently opposed commercial rapacity. Her book Break ‘Em Up: Recovering our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money (which she wrote with Bernie Sanders) is a good start. She is the right person to worry, along with Linn, that as kids become absorbed in the pseudo-worlds of online games and media. Children cease to see themselves as separate from these online worlds.  As Linn suggests, kids’ sense of human “connection” fails. They need, and become constant consumers of products embedded in this new enveloping environment. They become passive, accepting what they are offered instead of asking them questions.

 

Parents or Algorithms – Big Tech and Kids

As Teachout describes Linn’s approach, we need an upswell of society-wide indignation, since “we have a decision to make: whether to surrender the responsibility of collective parenting and human development to a bunch of algorithmically rich, morally deprived tech bros.” Linn opposes advertising to kids, and calls for legislative action to enforce the ban.

Teachout applauds Linn’s prescription, based on the fate of a hypothetical kid who spends 7+ hours a day online with no meaningful guidance on how to regulate the emotions he experiences. Maybe he’ll be fine, she suggests, but maybe he won’t. Now multiply that possible fate by several million. “[U]nless,” she concludes, “we understand each atomized, private, ad-cultivated addiction as part of public responsibility – not just the responsibility of parents – maybe we won’t be fine as a society, either, let alone live happily ever after.”  

Susan Linn’s “Who’s Watching the Kids”

Susannah Cahalan is an award-winning #1 New York Times bestselling author who wrote an alarming article in The New York Post titled Big Tech wants your kid to be its consumer, even if it harms them.” (…) “Linn, who has fought against direct-to-children marketing since the 1990s, provides an unvarnished look at our dystopian world where children sit slack-jawed in restaurants watching unboxing videos. Digital technology is “more pervasive, more invasive, more sophisticated, more manipulative, and more devious than ever,” she says.”

When Natural Play is Disrupted

Numerous studies show what happens when kids’ natural inclination to play is disrupted by trauma. War, displacement, poverty, and natural disaster traumatize children.  Technology that is absorbing but isolating. CPI addresses such disruptions on the ground, in places that chronically deprive kids of play: refugee camps, disaster zones, areas where traditional culture is challenged by the lure of screens. 

Children playing outdoors in kenya

 

Children at AIDS orphanage in Kenya playing during a CPI workshop.

CPI’s webpage The Importance of Play addresses the importance of play:

Though cultures vary enormously, kids are essentially the same – they love to play, and thrive when they do. They connect with their peers. They develop interpersonal skills and the capacity to think on their feet. They become the opposite of passive consumers. To us, Susan Linn is an inspiration. Like Teachout, we applaud her passion and clarity – her commitment to an environment where kids create their own childhood.   

Link to Zephyr Teachout’s Twitter account here

Lind to Susan Linn’s Twitter account here

Girls in Pakistan playing during CPI Olympics and storytelling event
Girls in Pakistan playing during CPI's "Olympics of the Body and Mind," 2022.

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