Part Three: Technology and Tots
The third post in my technology series is extra special to me, as the guest is my younger sister. I asked my sister, Amanda, to be a part of the series, not only because she is an incredibly talented writer, but because she has made educated, decisive decisions regarding technology in her household. I have always admired my sister’s parenting values; she makes wise decisions based on her natural instinct, then stands behind them one hundred percent (and never waivers). I could only dream of being this decisive.
Now I’ll turn it over to Amanda…
Please read first: It really took me some time to write this article. I wanted to give myself time to truly evaluate the reasons why we choose to limit our son’s exposure to technology. And then that lead to more questions, like “what is technology?” And as you might imagine, that question lead to another and then another. For all intents and purposes, “technology” means the current technology of computers, laptops, Smart Phones, ipads, video games and essentially our cellular devices. My hope is that you will read this with an open mind and heart and know that my intention is to connect with you on some level. It is NOT my intention to bash your parenting or lifestyle if you happen to feel differently. I have a real love for children and if everything was going really well for children, than I would have no room to criticize. But in my heart of hearts, I don’t feel that all is well. Children are being abused, neglected, abandoned, ignored and becoming more disconnected. I have a deep love for humanity and my article is an attempt to open a discussion on the benefits and risks of the emerging technology. I hope you will share your thoughts whether you agree or disagree.
It all started one afternoon, while my son, Nico and I were grocery shopping. As Nico perused the Lego section of the toy aisle, something caught my eye just behind him. It’s called an Apptivity and it is a plastic toy with a place to insert your smart phone. It comes complete with a splashguard to protect your device from unwanted drool and sticky fingers. The toy is designed for children ages 6 – 36 months. It unnerved me to imagine a 3 year old staring at an iphone, let alone a 6-month-old even access to one.
Not long after I saw the Apptivity, I saw a story in the Huffington Post in which the author gave reasons why hand held devices should be banned for children under the age of 12. While I don’t agree that the government should mandate any of a parent’s choices, I do believe that parents should limit their child’s exposure to this type of technology.
Since becoming a parent, I have operated mostly on intuition. Every now and then I will research a certain topic but I find that because there is so much reputable advice and so many statistics on either side of the matter, I become more confused than I was before I started my search. I have learned through the birth of my child and through important life decisions, that my intuition is a powerful and reliable guide. With that said, I am going to share with you the reasons why my husband and I have chosen to limit our son’s exposure to technology, based on a mixture of our intuition and life experiences. Occasionally, I will throw in statistics to support my argument, but if I have learned anything in my career as a doula and childbirth educator, it is that there is nothing stronger than a mother’s intuition.
Reason #1 It is a distraction.
The Smart Phone has changed more than just our ability to communicate with one another; it has changed human communication all together. People are glued to these things. Just the other day friend of mine made a very interesting observation regarding the abundant use of the Smart Phone. Replace “checking the Smart Phone” with “spinning plates”. If you were to bear witness to this person pulling out their plate to spin it, as much as people check their phones, you would think that person was crazy or maniacal. All aspects of life are susceptible to Smart Phone interruptions. Basics like driving, eating, sleeping, riding our bikes, sharing time with friends or going to the bathroom with a Smart Phone in hand are now a cultural norm. More intimate events, like a nephew’s first birthday, the birth of our children, or the death of our parents, no longer seem so intimate when someone is texting or shopping on Amazon. Because the Smart Phone is so pervasive it does often take the place of conversation, interaction, observance and just good old fashion stillness.
Reason #2: We are too reliant.
The infatuation with these devices has taught us to be more reliant on it than ourselves. We don’t remember phone numbers, how to read maps or what it feels like to turn the pages of a real book. Take for instance the wide plethora of available apps. It seems as though they have created an app for every possible life scenario. Birth Buddy is an app that times the duration and frequency of your contractions during your labor. You even have the option of emailing the data to your friends and family. As a witness to this app in use, I can tell you that this woman would have much rather preferred her husband’s attention and the use of his hands on her back than his phone. The Fake an Excuse app conjures up an excuse by creating a noise of choice so that you have a reason to get off the phone. Really? The Cry Translator lets you record your baby’s cries and then translates what your baby needs. Here’s a tip and I won’t even charge you: put the phone down and pick up your baby. Becoming overly dependent on technology does more than keep us reliant on cell phone ranges and battery life, it questions our very humanness and the strength and innate capabilities that we possess.
#3 It’s going to fast.
When we first started to engage in the new generation of children’s movies, I felt uneasiness at the speed. Something about how fast it was moving gave rise to our concern about how that might affect a small brain since surely it was affecting our brains in an uncomfortable way. While I don’t believe that the speed of our technology is the root of such diagnoses as ADHD or ADD, I do believe, that information being delivered at such a speed is not helpful for an already overactive brain. Personally, I have found that my consumption of the increasingly fast technology consumes my brain, making it hard to sleep and hard to remember. Emails, Facebook comments and phone calls; any where, any time, make for a fast life with little time to enjoy the moment.
#4 It’s addictive.
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen friends vow that they want to get off Facebook because they feel it is becoming too invasive in their lives, only to see them back on in a couple of days. I get it – I’ve done it myself. While I often get frustrated at the people who constantly check their iphones, I understand that it is an addiction and one that is not easily broken. If adults are having this much trouble controlling themselves, how can we expect kids to make sense of or balance the allure? Video games are a perfect example of the tremendous power of that addiction. Just the other day, I had a young man tell me that he was tired because he spent 12 hours playing a new video game. TWELVE CONSECUTIVE HOURS! But I get it, it’s addicting. How long did we sit in front of Super Mario Brothers trying to get to the last level? The only difference now, is that games today are designed to kill more than just man eating plants. The object today is to kill other people and it is very life like. I know there are educational video games but I would argue that for whatever video game they have for learning, there are more ways to teach the same lessons without it. How do these games shape our children’s minds, thoughts and feelings about the world and what will be the long term effects of these addictions.
#5 What are the long-term health risks?
I am sure that this generation of people will be saying the very same thing about technology that our grandparents said about cigarettes. “I had no idea it was bad for me.” It is important to know that the FDA does not review the safety of radiation emitting consumer products such as wireless phones before they can be sold and when you read the health and safety information section located in the users manual of your cell phone, you will find that they are unable to say with certainty that using a cellular device is free of danger based on “conflicting studies”. Computers, ipads, cellular phones, televisions, microwaves, radios, baby monitors and so much more emit radio frequency energy (radiation) which is absorbed by the bodily tissues closest to where the devices are used. I had a difficult time trying to find conclusive results about whether or not radio frequency energy causes cancer or other health problems but like I said, my gut tells me along with my own personal experience that my body feels a lot better when I spend the day breathing fresh air and experiencing nature instead of a day in front of computer or with my cell phone.
As parents of the next generation, we have the most important job in the world – to raise vibrant, healthy, freethinking individuals who are compassionate, empathetic, aware and happy. It is important to my husband and me that our son is present in his environment and is aware of who and what are going on around him. By having awareness, children become more in tune with the energy of situations, making it easier to make good judgment calls. We want our son to be self-reliant and know the very basics of human survival so that given the most difficult of situations; he has the confidence in himself and his abilities. We want our son to slow down and know this pace as a way of life rather than trying to attain it through yoga classes and meditation retreats later in life. We want our son to have a balanced relationship with technology knowing its incredible possibilities and understanding it’s risk and limitations. We want our son to understand the importance of human connection and all of the joy, disappointment, laughter, heartache and love that accompany those experiences. We want our son to know that the world is a vast place with so many things to try, places to see, and people to meet but that time only moves faster as you get older, so you have no time to waste. Most importantly, we want our son to know that we love him, we always have time for him and that we are always doing our best. These lessons are easier to teach and live by when technology plays a small role in both his life and ours.