Yesterday I read an article that made me angry. At first I was angry because the author was claiming that I’d irreparably damaged my children. I’m not a perfect parent. Sometimes I let my kid leave the bathroom without washing his hands. I’ve lost my temper, and thrown table manners out the window. I write about it openly, so that I can laugh at myself right along with my readers. But deep down, I think I do a pretty decent job as a mother. Needless to say, I was feeling a little defensive after reading the article.
The article, published in The Huffington Post, was titled 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned For Children Under The Age Of 12. The author listed 10 “scientific” arguments for why children should NEVER use hand held technological devices such as iPhones, iPads, Leap Readers, and Video Games. I’m sure I’m not the only mother whose heart would jump up into her throat when she read that description. I had to read on.
Soon I became angry for another reason: the article was full of misinterpreted, misleading, and inappropriately cited statistics and unrealistic conclusions. I was surprised to see a piece of blatant fear-mongering, finger-pointing, judgement coming from The Huffington Post. We parents do the best we can, and the last thing we need is someone throwing out complicated statistics and hyperbole to scare us into parenting the way they believe we should.
I considered refuting the unsubstantiated claims, one bullet point at a time, but if you read the comments below the article many people have done so already. I’ve decided that my effort would be better spent offering another perspective on the children and technology debate. Stating our opinions as irrefutable facts bullies people into taking our side. As a parent, I don’t like bullying of any kind, so I will take a different tack.
I’d like to explore some ways technology can benefit a child (and a parent), when used responsibly. These are not specifically in response to the article, but offer another perspective.
Five common myths about the dangers of children and technology
1. Children watching iPad and iPhones in restaurants aren’t learning how to socialize in and navigate the adult world –
Have you ever tried to have polite conversation with a two year old? At that age, it’s really more about damage control than anything else. They’d much rather be eating in the comfort of their own home, where they can run around bottomless and manipulate you into feeding them by hand while they play trains. Who wouldn’t? Unfortunately, the other diners probably do not find your child’s nudity particularly appetizing.
How do you convince a toddler to sit quietly and eat while wearing their underwear? I let them play games on my iPhone. What did parents do to entertain kids in restaurants back before the internet? The most common response I get is laughter. “We never went out to eat!” So tell me: how is that any better? At least my iPhone addicted offspring are physically near adults socializing. They might learn through osmosis. It can’t hurt.
2. Children need to be active and engage in physical activity –
Yes. Without a doubt. But they also need to stop moving every now and then. My son never stops. He’s like the Energizer Bunny on crank. As the day goes on I watch him deteriorate from cheerfully energetic, to running on adrenaline, to vibrating around the room like a tsetse fly. It’s a vicious cycle, that eventually ends in a nuclear melt down. It’s like Chernobyl, but with poop and vomit. Not pretty.
Sometimes you have to break the cycle, and SIT STILL for a few minutes. Tv and games on the iPad are the perfect incentive to get my little tweaker to take a few breaths, park his exhausted, sweating, backside on the sofa and unwind. Are there kids who abuse screen time? Of course. But the door swings both ways, and my kid definitely abuses physical activity.
3. We should spend more time reading to our children –
Unfortunately, in my house, the baby would rather eat the book than listen to me read it. The three year old insists on sitting on my lap, effectively pinning me to the chair, leaving me defenseless as the baby reeks havoc on the rest of the house. I read to both children every night before bed, but during the day it just isn’t on the cards.
My three year old plays reading games on the iPad every day. The interactive videos and rewarding animation he receives encourage him to concentrate far longer than traditional flashcards. Does the fact that my child learns to read from a screen instead of in Kindergarten mean that he will never develop a deep appreciation and love for reading? I hope not. I do know that the other day my three year old read the word SUN on a passing truck, can spell his name, and knows the alphabet forward and backward. I am confident he wouldn’t know any of this by now if it weren’t for those games.
4. They aren’t learning important motor skills through traditional activities like coloring, building puzzles, and molding with clay –
I think our generation needs to keep in mind that the skill sets we valued as children, and honed during our hours of creative and physical play, might be less valuable in the new digital world. Coloring can be a great way for children to express themselves artistically, as can creating music, dancing, singing, or sculpting objects out of their own feces.
I would never discourage a child from exploring their imagination through (almost) any medium. In fact, I recently wrote an entire piece on how important it is to embrace the simple things in life. However, not all children choose to express themselves artistically. For those children, the skills they gain from learning to use and understand digital technology might turn out to be more beneficial in life than the ability to expertly control a pencil. The world is changing. When is the last time you used a pencil?
5. Increase in technology usage by children is destroying familial bonds and creating socially awkward children –
Of course you shouldn’t park your child in front of the tv or iPad 8 hours a day so you never have to talk to them. However, when used under the right circumstances, digital and internet technology can actually help strengthen familial and social bonds. My children have family living all over the world. Twenty years ago when families emigrated they would see their extended family maybe once every five years. Some would see them only a handful of times the rest of their lives.
My children see their British grandparents every week through Skype. They listen to stories and talk about their days. When they visit, my children recognise them immediately. Plus, there are mornings when we are able to make breakfast and clean up the house while the three year old talks to his grandparents in the other room. We literally use the iPad to babysit our kids, and I don’t regret it one bit.
As with most things in parenting, you have to use your own instincts to decide what is right for you and your family. I firmly believe that a parent who pays attention and engages in what their children are interested in, whether it’s art, sports, or scientific documentaries on Netflix, is a good parent. Every child is different and has different needs. It’s the parents’ job, nobody else’s, to make a judgment on what makes them the happiest and healthiest child they can be.
As parents, we certainly don’t need scary statistics and harsh judgements to make us question our ability to keep our children safe. No, thank you.