It's Not that I'm Opposed to Technology...

This morning, the Mamaworldforum featured a blogpost entitled "Babies Now Have Email Addresses...Have We Gone Too Far?". I had just read the title and before I could help it, my eyes were rolling so far back in my head I was looking at last week. The post itself asked some good questions, but for me it was just another reminder of how unhealthy we have become in our loving embrace of technology.

Some of these thoughts make me feel I have a big "Grumpy Old Lady" tee shirt coming my way. All kidding aside, what I've noticed is that, as we integrate each technology into our lives, our children are the ones who are missing out most, even when it looks like they're simply 'having fun'. And this can be traced back to times as early in life as infanthood with the Bumbo chair, exersaucers and "walkers", and continues on with every further device invented to keep baby or the kid 'entertained' and out of our hair, temporarily happy.

What do our kids miss out on? An unexpected, but truly meaningful, list of experiences:
  1. Frustration~ The best observers of babies and how they learn know that good  frustration can be an extremely effective motivator. (This isn't to be confused with frustrations resulting from such adult-remedied needs as hunger or being upset with a dirty diaper... these are things children cannot yet take control of.) To my thinking, good frustration compels a child to stretch one's will and work harder to do something they want to do, such as rolling over or sitting up, or keeping their balance to reach. Later in life, challenging activities such as puzzles, building, sewing, following recipes will require our children to have had positive experiences of frustration, those which have resulted in the child's own motivation to mastery.
  2. Boredom~  A little boredom can be a good thing, especially for older children. When they're younger, it's our job to distract and redirect as much as possible, and when we can. Admittedly, there are times when it just doesn't work for our kids to be bored, but it's probably less often than we think. Boredom teaches our children how to Find Something to Do on their own.
  3. Appropriate Social Interaction~ Let's face it, our kids need all the practice they can get in learning social graces. In this day of worries about self-esteem and the ubiquitous best friend/ helicopter parenting, our kids miss the message that it isn't, in fact All About Them. Awareness of others heightens the child's ability to function well within the community, and not just to look out for themselves. We can include self-regulation in here too, because children must learn not to pitch a fit every time things aren't going their way, and each challenge is just one more opportunity for them to master the feelings they have.
  4. Life Skills~ Our computers can do everything for us, but they shouldn't. Kids need to learn how to do math and figure sums without a calculator. They need to learn how to use an index, a dictionary, how to write thank-you notes and cook, and even how to write legibly.
  5. Family Face Time~ To me, this is the most important loss. Our kids are struggling to stay in school, to make good choices, to find comfortable ways to talk to us, all in a world where we are increasingly distracted from one another.
A lot of very well-meaning parents, who love their kids a bunch, give their children things that perhaps they are too young for, not ready for, all out of a desire to make the child happy, whether for momentary peace or to include them, especially when younger siblings are involved. For many gadgets, children have to be capable of accepting adult-imposed regulations and limits, and this really depends on the child and not any specific age. The list of items below, and the qualities that I see missing in them, isn't to make parents feel badly about using them, because these things aren't terrible in and of themselves, but just to encourage thoughtfulness when we allow our children to use them.

Bumbo Chair: Babies like to be upright, and the Bumbo does just that. You can read all about it here (product reviews, which are enlightening.) What's the reason for all the injuries? The Bumbo isn't developmentally appropriate for growing babies, period. Missing: Frustration (which would have a catalyst for developing the ability to sit up), possible Boredom.

Exersaucer: Despite the fact that I have nearly broken my back several times trying not to trip over these things, I understand the allure for many parents,especially around dinnertime. Containment and entertainment. If you must buy one, get one with objects to manipulate instead of the computerized noise-and-light show, which will either overstimulate you, baby or both. We opted to go for a basket for baby, and later, a blanket of toys on a few floor pads/blankets. Once containment was an issue, then Kiddo was in the high chair while I worked at the counter or table while he ate or played.  Here's a debate on the concerns regarding the exersaucer and muscle development; I think in small amounts, not a big deal, but if the kids are in for a while, well... Missing: Frustration, Boredom, possible Family Face Time.

Walkers: It's all fun and good until they crash down the stairs. Oh, wait, no, there's more evidence that the walkers, too, teach incorrect muscle coordination for actually walking unassisted. I can't even put a "Missing" note on this because they should be banned.

Light-Up Noise Toys: Everything it can do, you can do better. Kids don't need to learn how to push a button to make a noise (hey, that label "Stimulates Learning!"? It teaches them how to push buttons, and just pretty much that. ) Old-school busyboxes that are designed to exercise daily-need fine motor skills like flipping switches, and twisting and turning knobs actually have more instructional and creative value. The play truck doesn't need to drive itself-typically, children have legs and can do this. Your child wants you as their teacher and best of toys, not a machine, and all it requires is a few minutes of being responsive. Missing:  Family Face Time; possible Boredom (because having your toy 'talk back' to you can be sadly 'engaging'.)

Leapster-style Educational Computer Systems: Sometimes actually a cause of frustration, because we aren't all born computer-users, this product introduces tech in a big way. Everyone seems to love it, and the usual reason I hear is that it buys adults some time.  Once again, everything these toys can do, parents can do better-- except that we don't have batteries and endless stores of patience. Better, in my opinion, for them to look at real books or listen to books on tape, being read as real language is spoken, or entertain themselves with other educational pursuits like counting cars, finding the letters on road signs, looking at maps and learning to read them, identifying the scenery, etc. Missing: Boredom , Social Interaction, Family Face Time.

Hand-Held Video Game Systems/Video Games in general: Gaming is addictive, fun, and a lot of parents like to use it as a babysitter. Aside from the fact that sitting on one's behind playing games keeps them from getting exercise, playing outdoors, or playing imaginative games of one's own creation, these products can become problematic over time. The device can also become more influential than it should be: it's the reason our kids will listen (incentive), it becomes the item that is taken away due to uncooperative behavior (punishment), it becomes the 'reason' our kids do what's usually expected of them (performance-based 'earning' of computer/video game time) and ultimately, it can become a big focus of whining and arguing between children and their parents as well as a potential source of serious animosity between siblings.  Pandora's Box. I think they're fine when introduced at an appropriate age, which means capable--mentally and emotionally-- of understanding a limited playtime schedule, taking turns with siblings, being a good loser, being able to quit a game if need be, even before they 'get to the next level'. Otherwise, they come with a heaping helping of bad frustration. Good luck with this! Missing: Boredom, Family Face Time, Appropriate Social Interaction, good Frustration (which would come with doing more hands-on challenging things).

Television: Did you know that, in our lovely United States, one in four toddlers have a television in their own rooms? A while back, with the arrival of cheap technology, the television no longer was the domain of The Adults, who got to choose what to watch, but there seemed to be a call to get a television in any and every room possible. Even your local broadband companies know this is a selling point. What's the fallout of kids watching television? Well, childhood obesity has been linked to it, and teachers like myself have noticed different behaviors in children when they get a zap of media saturation: besides sometimes violent play, they temporarily lose their abilities to play creatively and entertain oneself. Fortunately, this can be undone quickly if allowed to have some non-media time, but watching their ability to initiate play being temporarily paralyzed is a shocker. Bad boredom is a reaction; for many kids, once the tv is off, they don't always know how to go get busy entertaining themselves. Add to this the arguments that revolve around "Just one more" or "But it's not over yet"; add to this the effects of television (and computers) on child's sleep... Watching anything on the television should be done thoughtfully. Putting a tv in your kid's room also gives parents limited supervision as to what their children are watching, and doesn't provide an accurate idea of 'how much' they're watching or what kinds of ads your child is exposed to. And all of this is irrelevant of content, which is at best marginal.One question I want to throw out: would you let a child use the computer in their room, unsupervised? Because the argument/rules to keep the computer in the common areas becomes difficult to enforce when the kids have already had a taste of media-liberty at an all-too-early age. Missing: Boredom, Appropriate Social Interactions, Family Face Time, Life Skills (eventually relying on television for news/information as opposed to learning how to find other, less biased sources)

Facebook/Internet/Social Networking vehicles: With all the crap going on online, why would we think this is a good idea until our child is of age to sign the agreements necessary? A simple email account, set up under mom or dad's account, is perfect for sending pictures and videos. Most of these sites own all the content you post, which is no good. (Even here on blogger, we writers own the rights to our own work.) Add to this: I'm not keen on exposing my son to online society, which seems to have set the bar significantly lower than actual human face-to-face interactions. I don't need him to read what others think of him, esp. those children whose parents feel that "my child's Facebook page is like their diary...they'd be so upset if I read it". While these numbnuts are part of the act, we are choosing not to partake, thanks. Missing: Appropriate Social Interactions, Family Face Time, Life Skills (sending thank you notes, sending invitations, sending letters, knowing how to politely make a telephone call...because it's not All About Them...)

Smartphones: Does your kid really need "an app for that"? Are they so independent that they will need to be finding restaurants or directions on the fly in unfamiliar areas, because you haven't supplied food or information? I'm personally of the opinion that 'she who cannot pay for her phone doesn't have one'. Kids tend to abuse these devices at school and become more disengaged from their surroundings, focused on their expensive toy. Heck, I know adults who can't put their down, and have seen whole families out to dinner, everyone texting or playing games on phones. It's pretty sad.  I like the cell phones that allow a limited amount of numbers to be dialed out/ring in, and this makes more sense than giving them the whole kit and caboodle. Missing: Family Face Time, Life Skills, Boredom

These are the main culprits that I see as problematic to our children's development if introduced too early.
Notice, too, that ipods are not on my big list. Music isn't ever a bad thing, in my opinion, --okay, some of it sounds pretty stupid. Overall, though, we just have to be very careful about volume and protecting their hearing. And I hope this list provided a chuckle or two, or helps inspire some thoughtful conversations. I'm not here to be the buzzkill, just the reality check. All our shiny new options aren't always what they're cracked up to be. The science fiction writers were right: all this convenience only serves to compromise us in the long run, if we aren't careful. Just read some Huxley or Bradbury. And not on your Kindle, please.


Amanda said…
Oh! Oh! I know! I can help you on this one!! Gadgets & gizmos, albeit a normal part of our world today need to be combated and minimalized in order for our children to continue to think, develop small motor development, hand eye coordination and yes, boredom skills. It is good to be bored, I tell my kids. They learn how to find something pleasant to do. When they are bored a lot I know they've had too much stimulation and entertainment and it's time to cut back. I've also got a hard and fast rule that playing Wii should be fun, not sad or angry. So the moment it gets emotional (negatively) it goes away. We should be esteeming our siblings and friends over a computer, no? Oh, but what a fight it is. I'd like to hear your ideas about how to compete with these techhy gadgets, as I'm sure your other readers would. I'm learning that the sweet out of doors compete well, as does reading and good old fashioned "work" for kids.


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