David Pogue, tech guru and columnist for the New York Times, recently wrote an article about his six-year-old son's iPad addiction. I was laughing to myself while reading it because I can relate to the constant requests to become entranced by the flashing lights and bright colors, and the yearning to grasp and hunch over an electronic device. I have a six-year-old son as well.
The difference is that my son's would-be addiction is to my iPhone or my husband's iPod Touch, either or, depending on who is more willing to relinquish the shiny, sparkly device. And I only say "would-be addiction" because I still waver between allowing him to be exposed to this kind of technology so early in life and realizing that there are many fantastic educational apps that would undoubtedly teach him a lot more than Disney Channel's Kick Buttowski does.
He hasn't had the opportunity to feed the addiction because his time with these devices is fairly limited. But I would bet my soon-to-be-purchased iPad 2 on the fact that if he was given the freedom to swipe and tap to his heart's content, one would quickly develop.
I do believe that screen time is screen time and an hour on my iPhone counts just as much as an hour on the TV does. But perhaps it's the acknowledgment of the technology-laden life he's destined for, and the inherent concern that causes that makes me hold onto my iPhone even tighter. I know that his generation won't even know a life without technology. Texting, Facebook, and whichever other tech innovations that surface in the coming years will be part of his everyday life, as they are becoming for ours.
I'm worried that his generation will default to emails instead of hand-written notes, texts instead of phone calls and saying "LOL" instead of actually laughing out loud. I'm worried that he will be exposed to a lot more on the Internet than he needs to see and I'm worried that technology will prevent him from fully experiencing life in the three dimensional world.
When my son asks if he can play a game on my iPhone and I start rambling about technology and its effect on kids, and I talk about my concerns, and I tell him that he has a full lifetime ahead of him to play with technology, I'm met with a blank stare and then after a couple seconds, "So... can I play a game on your iPhone or not?"
I've seen the way it affects kids and the ease in which they get sucked in. The Quasimodo effect, as I call it. Backs hunched, heads low, unwitting of anything going on around them. Recently, on this school vacation week, my son stayed at his grandfather's house for several days and my husband left him with the iPod Touch as a means of easing the time away from home. When I arrived to pick my son up, not having seen him for THREE DAYS, I entered the room expecting a wild exclamation and huge jump into my arms, but instead, found him in full Quasimodo mode on the corner of the couch, huddled with the device. I had to physically block his sight of the screen so he would look up and dilate his pupils. Only then did I receive the greeting I was looking for.
In the Times article, Pogue states, "The iPad is a magic electronic babysitter that creates instant peace in the household. If you told me you'd never, even occasionally, be tempted to hand it over, I'd say I doubt you." I wholeheartedly agree and have given into the temptation. It is easy, it does work and kids CAN learn from it.
But it's still a tough balance and one that a lot of parents are navigating. Maybe because technology with our kids is inevitable, the question shouldn't be to tech or not to tech, but rather how much and when.
I'm still trying to figure it out.