SOUND FAMILIAR?

American Girl’s 2019 “Girl of the Year” has a screen-time problem

Accurate.
Accurate.
Image: Reuters
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American Girl has announced its 2019 “Girl of the Year” doll, and in addition to wholesome hobbies like cooking and gardening, she has some very relatable issues, one of which is that she is obsessed with her phone.

According to Today, Blaire Wilson is “a young aspiring chef who enjoys bringing people together at her family’s upstate New York sustainable farm and bed-and-breakfast.”

The $115 doll’s virtuous profile is reminiscent of previous American Girl figures (these include aspiring ballerinas, photographers, poets, etc.). But Today adds that Blaire’s storyline addresses her struggle “to find balance between the digital world and the real world.”

press release from American Girl, based in a suburb of Madison, Wisconsin, reads:

“A natural people person, Blaire excels at gathering people around the dinner table but needs help finding balance between the digital world and the real world—like many people today. Through Blaire, girls will learn the importance of staying connected to the people they care about and that this means more than clicking and swiping—it means truly being there.”

The company offers accessories for the doll, including clothing, party decor, and books where young readers can learn about Blaire’s difficulties with technology.

While Blaire’s tech obsession sounds a bit Bandersnatch-y, it’s an accurate reflection on the present state of young people and tech. The general consensus is that too much screen time is bad for very young children: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for kids under two, and an hour max for those between two and five.

For teens, excessive screen time appears to have even darker consequences: In 2017, Clinical Psychological Science published a study that found a strong correlation between the increased use of smartphones and mental illness in teenagers. Meanwhile, even Silicon Valley’s iconic technologists have admitted to limiting screen use for their children: Steve Jobs famously refused to let his kids use iPads, whereas Apple’s current chief executive Tim Cook says he doesn’t want his tween nephew on social media.

In fact, adults could learn a thing or two from Blaire: According to a recent piece from the New York Times (paywall), over 253 million Americans own a smartphone and in 2018 spent an average of 1,460 hours using one.

In its press release, American Girl notes, “Blaire finds herself more engaged on her devices than at real-life gatherings with others. Ultimately, through the help of her family and friends, Blaire finds a healthy balance and learns the value of being fully present at every occasion.”

The company told USA Today it hopes that by shedding light on “Blaire’s screen-time obsession, and her efforts to resolve it through her chapter-book series, will help kids find more balance in their own family and social lives.”

Alas, maybe we should all take a few notes.