Toddlers and technology: We live in a digitally overloaded world. There is no denying that fact. We are the victims of our own industrious nature and as parents, we are tasked with facing yet another, and possibly the most daunting hurdle in raising our children – technology. This medium will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in their and our lives. Knowing this, we must learn how to integrate it and moderate it accordingly so that our kids are not left behind in the advancement of these technologies yet not over powered by its addictive nature. Unless there is a cataclysmic event where we’re left in the dark with no power we must learn how to allow them time to explore, learn and enjoy the power of technology while still teaching them how to speak to one another face-to-face instead of texting or emailing.
When my generation grew up, we weren’t as overwhelmed with technology like it feels we are today. We found entertainment in our primitive toys, our friends, our families and, most importantly, within our imaginations. (Please see: “ball in a cup” courtesy of The Family Guy.) Our imaginations allowed for us to create play scenarios where ever we were. My brothers and I would find ourselves in the woods for endless hours pretending to be soldiers, or stealthy ninjas, while we tried to sneak into the other base-camp to steal a flag. Some of my most favorite times were spent exploring the woods, getting dirty, or building the most awesome fort with nothing but branches and logs and “setting boobie traps, dats what I said setting BOOTIE TRAPS!!!” We used to pretend that we were The Goonies and we would search for buried treasure. As much as I wanted to be Mikey or Brant, I was more like Chunk. No, maybe not Chunk, probably Mouth. (Haha, I love that movie.)
As we got older, we experienced the advent of the gaming console in the form of the Classic Atari. But it was the glorious Nintendo Entertainment System that captured our hearts and ultimately our attention. As prepubescent teens, we loved these game consoles. The major difference I see between us and the gamers of today is that we were able to have fun without it. In high school, my friends and I collected and traded baseball cards and we played Dungeons and Dragons. Shhh…my friends and I were not the stereotypical kids you would see playing this game. (I imagine characters from The Big Bang Theory.) From my view, we were socialized, athletic, and somewhat popular. Of course, this popularity would fluctuate depending on who you dated and if you had a sweet ride with a kick-ass system. (Here in the North East it was all about the bass.)
My daughter, now 26-months, was given a gift by her Grandparents called the Nabi Jr. For lack of better words it’s a toddler tablet. While she wasn’t able to do more than turn it on and off until she was 14-months-old, she now uses it for counting numbers, learning the alphabet, and listening to stories. These activities and other valuable teaching tools has, in my humble opinion, allowed her to exponentially grasp language and enhance her motor skills. Coupled with one-on-one instruction from my wife and I, we have used the device to help teach and reinforce these basic building blocks of communication. As she gets older, the tablet will allow for more advanced instruction. In this way I appreciate and understand the overall value that limited, structural interaction with these software based learning products have in helping children learn and excel. Unfortunately, along with the value of these devices also comes a seedy underbelly.
My wife and I each have a smartphone and we use them for photos, videos, social media, music, and the occasional phone call. By watching us do these things, my daughter becomes interested in what we are doing and abandons her tech in search of more dynamic forms. As an experiment, we began allowing her to use our phones in small doses. In doing so I am afraid we have opened Pandora’s Box. My 20-month-old can fully navigate my phone to get to any application she wants. Even if I hide the apps that she uses by dropping them in a layer of folders she will ultimately find them. While this beautiful mapping process taking place in her brain is impressive and leads me to believe she is a genius (I’m sure all parents feel this way), I feel we have reached the tipping point. If we do not do a better job regulating her use of our phones and tablets, we will create a much larger problem.
So here is my conundrum: I don’t know how much exposure is too much.
When I was researching an answer, I found an article that reaffirms the fears that I have. The article is “10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should be Banned from Children Under the Age of 12” by Chris Rowan. I am guilty of exposing my child to the technology that victimizes and enslaves us all. The points brought up by Rowan are anything short of alarming and very well documented. Yet, I cannot help but feel that they are the extreme of the situation. If nothing else, she offers well thought out guidelines on how to moderate overuse and explains the warning signs of over stimulation in children.
While Rowan’s article is helpful in scaring the bejesus out of any parent who has a television, cell phone, computer or tablet, the potential negative outcomes of technological overuse are worth the warning. In knowing the dangers, I am also willing to look at the benefits of the correct use of this medium. As parents, it is our job to pay attention to technology use, to talk to our educators, ask intelligent questions and make sure that our children have the ability to take advantage of this opportunity in a safe manner. I had a lengthy discussion with my pediatrician about this topic (much to the dismay of the parents in the waiting room next to us with a screaming toddler), and he confirmed that use of electronic screen time, including television, must be limited; however, studies have shown that the correct use of technology has helped children develop fine motor skills and promoted learning differentiation and, in many documented cases, has helped troubled learners.
As we navigate the labyrinth of information the one thing we must keep in our trusty holster is the weapon of common sense. Unfortunately, this seems to have been abandoned by most. The responsibility is ours to make sure that we and those around our children do not abuse the technology which has taken over our lives. We must remember that we are the first and last line of defense for our kids. I do what I can to control the technology that my daughter is exposed to and i will continue to do what is necessary even at the risk of being the “bad guy”. The last thing I want is to be the one who turned her into a tech junkie. I can see it now: the holidays, the birthdays, even a wedding or funeral…all experienced through a screen. Technology has the potential to desensitize those who misuse it, or to enhance the lives of those who respect it. It has the potential to take the human from the human experience. Think about it…and take the time to do something to prevent it before it gets away from you too.
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