Joel Bakan, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, has two teenagers who sometimes ignore him. I know this because his recent New York Times op-ed called “The Kids Are Not All Right” begins this way:
When I sit with my two teenagers, and they are a million miles away, absorbed by the titillating roil of online social life, the addictive pull of video games and virtual worlds, as they stare endlessly at video clips and digital pictures of themselves and their friends, it feels like something is wrong.
Most parents have been on the outskirts of their kids’ awareness when they are too absorbed in one thing (a video game, their appearance, other people’s approval) and not absorbed enough in another (homework, church, the conversation at the dinner table). But Bakan takes a normal parenting moment and extrapolates it into a full-fledged battle between children and… wait for it… wait for it… corporations.
Yes, the “bad guy” in his example is some sort of corporate giant waiting to drive his kids’ minds to distraction. He writes about the history of child abuse in mines, mills and factories in the 19th century, and the eventual child-labor laws. And then, he makes a giant leap from the dusty coal shafts to an excess of Twitter or World of Warcraft:
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study reports that children spend more hours engaging with various electronic media — TV, games, videos and other online entertainments — than they spend in school. Much of what children watch involves violent, sexual imagery, and yet children’s media remain largely unregulated. Attempts to curb excesses — like California’s ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors — have been struck down by courts as free speech violations.
However, Bakan concludes on a hopeful note. He writes that “our current failure to provide stronger protection of children in the face of corporate-caused harm reveals a sickness in our societal soul. The good news is that we can — and should — work as citizens, through democratic channels and institutions, to bring about change.”
Guess what, professor? There’s even better news than you think!
You can control your own kids’ addiction to their iPhones and iPads by using a simple function called the “on/off” switch. You can limit their ability to “stare endlessly” at video clips by giving them a pre-set daily amount of internet time. You can even — gasp! — ask them to do a “Facebook fast” for a week to reignite the relationship with dear old dad.
Instead of looking to government regulation to assist you in protecting your kids’ childhoods, you can look directly at your kids, smile, and say, “Okay, guys. I love you, and things are going to change.”
If they resist, you don’t have a “corporation” problem, you have a family problem.