Everything You Know About Screens Is Wrong

“You laugh at my horse, you buy my horse.”

How’s that for an old saying? The thing you scorn today, at some future time you will want for your own. It’s a cruel irony. In the struggle to reduce childhood obesity, one of the basic tenets has been the necessity to get kids away from electronic screens.”Stop playing those video games and sharing TikTok dance videos and flirt-texting with that girl or boy,” we have insisted. “Get up and move around,” we have urged.

The mantra has been, Screens = Bad. And now, it’s all different. Now we want everybody to have screens, to access their health monitoring and weight-loss apps. What a pointed example of flip-floppy reversal!

The COVID era in its intense phase exposed the “digital divide” as a nationwide crisis. In 2020, SFGATE’s Editor-at-Large Andrew Chamings wrote,

Across the country, approximately 15-16 million K-12 public school students, or 30% of all public K-12 students, live in households either without an internet connection or device adequate for distance learning at home.

This left almost one-third of homebound children at risk of “significant learning loss.” (Incidentally, it was also found that a surprising number of American teachers — estimated at hundreds of thousands — lack adequate tools and connectivity in their homes.) One study found that a hefty proportion of students were limited to doing their “distance learning” via their parents’ smartphones. That situation creates a whole set of problems, because the grownups need their phones to help them make a living and pay the rent, whether they are in the house or at an outside job.

The pandemic and the consequent sudden demand for home-based tutoring demonstrated that, for better or worse, an awful lot of kids just don’t “do” screens. As a previous post mentioned, numerous families are in no way equipped to facilitate their children in distance learning. A lot of American kids don’t have access to a computer, or a table to set it on, or a domestic environment conducive to learning. Not surprisingly, they tend to live in communities that are underserved in many ways.

No matter how smart and motivated kids are, they can’t do the work if they don’t have the gear. Lacking hardware, the most comprehensive and cleverly-designed program is useless to them. Even if by some miracle they obtain a laptop, tablet, or cell phone, they are super-vulnerable to thievery.

Nobody is available to teach them the basic usage of the device. They lack the know-how and the money to get it connected to the wired world. Their parents lack the time and the tech savvy. In a piece called, “In the Covid-19 Economy, You Can Have a Kid or a Job. You Can’t Have Both,” New York Times reporter Deb Perelman wrote, “Remote learning has already widened racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps because of disparities in access…”

Policy cannot be guided by “people with cushioning.” Unless it works for everyone, policy is baloney. Without the technology and machinery to support it, even the most brilliant program or application is baloney too.

Wouldn’t it be great if every school district in the country had a fully-functioning plan for online education? Perelman wrote,

Successful online learning will require much more than taking a traditional lesson plan and doing it in front of the computer. Good online teaching takes expertise and skill… and it means that teachers should be designing their own lessons, rather than districts outsourcing education to for-profit companies.

In the name of both justice and common sense, Shayla R. Griffin, Ph.D., insists that all teachers need state-of-the-art equipment and full support to do their jobs, as much as all families need computers and internet access.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Report: 1 in 4 Calif. kids don’t have adequate internet access to learn from home,” SFGate.com, 06/29/20
Source: “In the Covid-19 Economy, You Can Have a Kid or a Job. You Can’t Have Both.,” NYTimes.com, 07/02/20
Source: “Schools Aren’t Opening. We Have to Pay Parents to Stay Home with Their Kids.,” Medium.com, 07/29/20
Image by Boston Public Library/CC BY 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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