Five-Year-Olds Don’t Need Smartphones (A Lament)
The other day, while driving through my neighborhood to Target, I got behind a minivan. This is a trip that typically takes around 7 or 8 minutes.
Through the back of the minivan, I could see the glare of a video screen, blaring some cartoon I didn’t recognize. Now, I’m not sure where this family’s trip originated, but being that our street is not exactly a main artery through town, I can’t imagine that they were coming from, oh, I don’t know, another state.
I found this disheartening for numerous reasons. No, I don’t know these folks’ backstory. Maybe the mom was having a really bad day. Maybe the kid wouldn’t settle down, or maybe she had just won a judo championship at her karate school and mom promised 10 minutes of Sponge Bob on the way to the store as a reward.
But, in all honesty, what I kept thinking was, “That kid can’t travel 8 minutes without watching TV? What is wrong with his parents?”
We all see ’em: two-year-olds who can’t make it through a grocery store without being glued to their mom’s or dad’s smartphone – not because the toddler is having an inexplicable crying fit (been there, done that) – but because he expects it. I hear about kids who can’t travel a half-hour to Grandma’s without headphones and an iPad. I taught students who couldn’t make the four-minute trek from class to class without Tweeting an update. I watch adults who can’t wait 10 minutes in the line at Chipotle without mindlessly staring at their phones. Hey, person in line, if you hadn’t been staring at your phone, you could have struck up a conversation with the person in front of you, and it could have led to romance. Or maybe led to your next great career opportunity. Or, he could have been a total freak. The point is, you’ll never know, because you were sucked into the black hole of the touch screen.
Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. Always have. It fascinates me, it does. I love gadgets and gizmos and perhaps, in another life, would have studied computer science. I don’t wish it away by any means. After all, it gave me the ability to change my career and work from home so that I could quit my full-time job and stay home with my kiddo.
And my daughter loves it, too. Most days, we let her use our iPad for a short block of time – around a half hour, usually. And on long car trips, we let her have the tablet with headphones so she can watch “Frozen” for the umpteenth time without making us crazy. She plays Nick Jr. games and “types” on the computer. She’s almost five. She gets it. And like the rest of is, she can get sucked in – when I tell her that “time’s up” on the iPad, some days, she’ll say, “Ok, Mama.” Other days, she’ll start a tear-filled tug-of-war with the device until I have to threaten to take away a privilege.
What we don’t allow – and don’t plan to allow anytime in the next 10 years – is unlimited access to technology. We know, we know. She’ll cry and fight and scream and yell about how “unfair” we are because “all of her friends” have iPhones with unlimited data plans and Facebook and Snapchat and Instagram and it’s the end of the world because she’ll be So. Left. Out. We know. We know.
Here, however, is my justification, my saving grace: In an article in the New York Times in September, writer Nick Bilton discussed how Steve Jobs was a low-tech parent. Jobs’ own children didn’t have iPads or limitless access to the devices that his company hawks. Why? Because, like many parents who work in the tech field, he understood the dangers inherent in allowing kids to roam free when it comes to electronic devices. These parents don’t allow access to gadgets during the week, and on the weekends, they are given 30 minutes to two hours of screen time. Older children, of course, are allowed to use computers for homework, but that’s it.
The article states that as a whole, these parents forbid phones of any kind until the kids are 14. No smart phones until they’re 16. And absolutely no social media accounts of any kind. One tech industry parent is quoted as saying, “This is rule No. 1: There are no screens in the bedroom. Period. Ever.”
Why the hard stance? It’s simple. They know that while these devices certainly have the power to entertain, they also have the ability to suck your kid into a world in which he’s not fully prepared to enter – one fraught with pornography, violence, and cyberbullying. One which, let’s face it, many parents don’t fully understand.
As we gear up for holiday-shopping madness, plenty of kids will ask Santa to leave electronics under the tree. Heck, half of this year’s Christmas toy books from Target and Toys R Us are filled with tablets, smart phones and a mishmash of electronic devices. Yes, older kids need gifts, too. But should tablets and phones be classified as “toys”? Me thinks not.
My Christmas wish? It’s that we would stop allowing technology to run our lives – and our kids’ lives. This holiday season, when you get to Grandma’s, tuck the smartphone away. Leave the iPads at home. Enjoy the time spent with your loved ones in real time — and in real life – instead of through the glaring, blue-tinted screen of a gadget.
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