Plug It In

I was visiting a neighbor some time ago with a friend, which was fun. We had a nice time talking about anything and everything for a couple of hours. For them, it was a relief to have adult company because both women were mothers of toddlers and did not get much adult conversation outside of church since their husbands worked and attended school. My husband was in the same boat, and even though I did not have a little munchkin to occupy me, there were not many adults I could call on regularly either.

Sometime in the conversation, we were interrupted by my neighbor’s little boy who started screaming and hitting his mother when she did not immediately let him onto her kindle so he could play a game. Tantrums are typical at such a young age, so I was not troubled or surprised by it. What did surprise me was how quickly she responded by giving her toddler exactly what he wanted. At that point, the conversation naturally turned to how tech-savvy kids are, and how both mothers used hand held devices to calm their kids and teach them age appropriate things like colors, numbers and letters. They indicated that they would not do it any other way, partially because they were so busy, partially because they needed to maintain their sanity somehow, and partially because “they might as well learn how to use these things now.” About half an hour later, when my neighbor tried to take the kindle from her child, he responded more violently than before, and she quickly gave up her attempts to get him to do anything else for the rest of the time.

This experience is one example of many that I have had over the years when it comes to observing children and modern technology. In every instance, the children displayed varying degrees of addiction to it to the point that trying to pry them away from it for any reason was a painful experience (mostly on the ears). I will not pretend to know better than the parents of all these kids because I do not know them or their situations, nor do I have kids of my own (yet) to judge by. What I will say is that what I have observed is alarming.

I guess I did not notice it as much until I got pregnant, but there really are a lot of kids who know how to navigate electronic devices of all kinds.  From cell phones, to I-Pads, to TV’s, you name it, they are more tech savvy than I was at twenty. Part of my lack of electronic know-how has to do with lack of availability. A lot of the technology we have today was not invented when I was growing up. The other part of it has to do with my parents. They would not let me have access to all the technology I wanted, and I bitter about it… at the time.

Now that I am going to be having a child in less than two months, I pay better attention to the things going on around me, especially in relation to parenting. I guess you could say my maternal instincts are kicking in and I find myself sorting through different potential dilemmas trying to decide how I want to react to them if they should ever come up. Some issues are more pressing than others, like technology use, and I want to be as prepared as I can to face them. In a way, I wish things were cut and dried, and that there was one obvious answer to every parenting problem. Life is not that simple though, and observing the way my parents handled my siblings when I was younger (I was the oldest), I have come to the conclusion that most of the time you cannot even employ the same tactics and parenting styles with every child. Everyone is unique, and it requires a lot more flexibility to raise more than one person at the same time.

Most of the parents I have encountered seem to have no problem letting their kids handle technology, and, honestly, looking back, my limited childhood experience was the exception rather than the rule. Most of my peers had as much computer, cell phone, and internet access that they could want. The fact that my parents were so restrictive of technology was odd. People still look at me funny when I tell them I did not have video games in my house when I was a kid.

The thing is, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything at all. I am sure it would have been nice to have those things so I didn’t feel as out of the loop, especially in high school. That is what I told myself at the time. Now, I realize my parents were right: I did not need it. I don’t think my kids need it either.

“But your children will be behind the times!”

“How will they keep up in school?”

“Isn’t that depriving them of important experiences?”

I have heard comments and questions like the ones above countless times, among others, and I have a simple rebuttal for each one. I didn’t fully integrate into the technological world until I was in my twenties, and I was just fine. I still am. It took me little time or effort to figure things out. I trust that my children will be smart enough to figure things out when the time comes,  too. Besides, what freak situation would a five or six year old be thrust into a life or death situation that requires them to know how to use a kindle? I guarantee those problems are one in a million.  I have never heard of one personally.

Don’t worry, my husband and I are not going to force our kids to  be Amish or anything. They will know how to use a phone, and they will get to watch wholesome shows and movies, and when they are older, my husband and I will teach them how to use a computer. We just do not want them to experience the bulk of childhood staring at a screen. We want them to develop their imaginations, to go outside and play, to experience things first hand rather than virtually. There is so much more to life than technology, and we want them to have every opportunity to experience it. Rather than letting a computer program teach my children, I want to be there to interact with them and watch them learn and grow first hand.

Aside from first-hand experience, I have also been looking at different studies that have been done on this very thing and the results confirm my suspicions about the addictive, and mostly detrimental effects of excessive technology in children, especially under the age of thirteen. I am more and more convinced by the day that small children do not need as much technological exposure as most of the world is willing to give.

I intend to keep looking into the matter, but for now, I am pretty convinced that my kids don’t need the problems that come from too much technology.

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