I was sitting in a Bandanna’s BBQ with my boyfriend earlier this year when my first spark of realization hit me. A few tables over, a young couple sat with their one-year-old daughter, who was starting to act up in her highchair. Without missing a beat, and without much more than a “No, Katy”, the mom hands this one-year-old an iPad looked to be encased in baby-proof rubber not unlike the kind you see on sippy-cups. Immediately, the kid shuts up, lost in a Candy Crush sort of trance as her eyes glaze over.
Wait, I asked myself. Does that kid have her own iPad? She can’t even talk yet.
It was that revelation at Bandanna’s that propelled me into an existential reverie that would last months, maybe years. The idea that this parent, and most likely many other parents, had barely said two words to her daughter before handing her an iPad to shut her up made me feel uncomfortable. Where was the discipline? Granted, getting a one-year-old to stop shrieking in a restaurant is no small feat, but what happens when she gets older? A mental image of this child comes to mind in which she grows up, unable to sit still unless she’s playing an app game.
See, when I was a kid, the most technology I had was a Playstation and the occasional visit to a Sailor Moon fansite, But for the most part, I had a mother who would boot me out of the house until I played outside long enough to appease her, which was usually a few hours. I distinctly remember collecting big shoots of bamboo and sticks to make forts for myself and my stuffed animals, or hiding in the hay shed while it rained. At a very young age, before I even knew how to write, I would make up stories. They were mostly about animal pals who die at the end, because I was a morbid child, but you get the picture.
My point is, I feel like we’re raising kids with technology while we ourselves don’t have a good idea of what that entails. New parents of today were most likely kids of the 80’s and 90’s, growing up with not-so-portable Nintendos and big chunky TV sets. The technology we see today–iPads, iPhones, social networks, app games–are all products of a rapid-fire high-speed evolution in the media industry that simply wasn’t present 10 years ago. Everyone is still sparkly-eyed at the idea of a portable phone that can literally do anything you want, just short of making you a sandwich. You could say we’re punch-drunk with the limitless innovative technology pouring from the Mysterious Beyond, and yes, that includes me. I can play Final Fantasy II on the same phone I use to go on Facebook, Tumblr, Candy Crush, my stocks, a calculator, text messages, a recipe book, and the all-knowing expanse of the internet? Hell yeah!
But from a developmental standpoint, what is this doing to young kids? If you were to hand a 3-year-old an iPad every time he started acting up, what does this teach him? If you were to let your kids bring their 3DS’s to the table whenever you went to a restaurant? Kids and adults alike use their phones and other devices as forms of escapism in awkward or uncomfortable situations. I’m guilty of this, too, kids. At a party where I don’t know anyone? Phone. Uncomfortable silence between two fighting parents? Phone.
The problem isn’t the technology itself: It’s the way we handle it. No, I’m not an anti-technology homesteader hippie lady. Well, I tend to be the last two things sometimes, but I happen to like technology. As a girl with Cystic Fibrosis, technology saved my life many times. But it stands that our culture is evolving all the time, and instead of trying to treat technology like any other trifling fad, we need to be educating developing kids about the do’s and don’ts of using this new technology. Facebook, the internet, and iStuff aren’t going away any time soon. They’re as heavily imbued into our culture now as television, books, fashion. So why aren’t we educating our kids on how to behave on the internet, phone etiquette, online safety?
Like it or not, technology is going to be an enormous part of your child’s life. Instead of using it as a babysitter for a crabby toddler or a distraction from an awkward situation, kids need to be taught more than ever how to behave toward certain situations and other human beings. Parenting will have to change, because our culture is changing. The solution isn’t to thin out the technology in our kids’ lives, but to educate them on how to properly use it. Teach them how not to delve into their phones when they feel awkward, how not to treat other people on the internet like shit, how not to get addicted to Candy Crush to the point where they’re sitting on the toilet for an hour and they miss dinner (that’s not a personal anecdote, by the way).
From a developmental standpoint, it can’t be healthy for a growing kid to have his nose pressed to the screen of an iPad constantly. Not that I’m against it, but I don’t like the thought of a generation of people who don’t know how to order their own food at a restaurant, or who don’t know when to hold the door open for an elderly woman, or how to properly introduce themselves and start a conversation with a stranger. Or kids who don’t know how to play outside, with other kids. Do you think kids getting addicted to their electronics at such a young age is detrimental to their development? Leave a comment below!