There was a time before Internet and it was not long ago. We had pocket dictionaries and tombstone-sized encyclopedias. We were fascinated by the colorful pictures and beautiful typesets in these colossal books. But things change.
My children do not need the bulky encyclopedias that used to be an unattainable dream for many middle-class Indian families. They have Wikipedia for free. They have free dictionaries and free translators. They have everything at their finger tips. As a friend pointed out, why would you fill your childrens’ heads with information that you can just get by typing in a Google search. Is this bad?
Our children do not think of a bitter pill when you say tablet! Can I influence the outcome- if they take the blue pill or the red one? What made me go down this particular rabbit hole is this article:
The part about giving the kids their own iPads to keep them quite in a restaurant, is a part I am going to skip over. Not that I have done it till date, but as a person who reads at the table, I am not a good example for my kids. My husband and I both read at the table and communicate mostly when we want to discuss something we have read. We usually reserve all life-changing discussions for later. My children do bring up things during dinner times but also usually not anything that is bothering them (those are reserved for the time after goodnight stories, rule set by them, I do not know why) or things that they are bursting to tell me, which is right after I pick them up from school. So why this constraint that you should not read or use technology at the table? I do put some effort into table-manners but I am not 100% convinced about this talking about important issues as a family, during mealtimes business – the food should be enjoyed, hunger has to be stilled and if you want to do small-talk thats alright, after dessert. It is as Buddha said ‘first fill your stomach and then your mind is ready to be filled’ (I am paraphrasing here, I have no idea what the exact quote was).
Now that we got that out of the way, what about communication skills in general? According to various experts in this article, too much exposure to technology could hinder communication skills in children. The keyword being ‘could’. They are not sure and they candidly admit it. This is why I love the scientific community- they are open-minded about being wrong. But what do parents take from this article? “Oh no, we have given our children iPads, they are doomed! They will only be able to communicate in single syllables and will never have a happy relationship with another human being, ever!”
I say this because of this conversation I had with someone from a pre-PC generation. This was when I was working in software development and my job was with smartphones and tablets. She said she was afraid that having all these gadgets would make our children not value relationships because its all virtual to them and that its easy to break off something over SMS. This might be true but I have a feeling, this has always been there. There were always people who did not know the value of a relationship and ended it remote in a letter from far-away or people that hid behind their walls. It has nothing to do with Facebook or Twitter.
She also said that they will not know true happiness and my arguement was that this is our happiness value we are judging future generations against – why should we believe that our view of ‘happiness’ is the only valid one? What if, in the future, a starving person can get a pill that is not gourmet food but will fill his/her stomach – is that person’s happiness not as real?
So is our fear for our children rational or are we just afraid of new technology? Is this just the same as the old not wanting to accept the new order?
My opinion as a mother is that, change is inevitable. I limit my children’s media time, not from any higher reason like turning them into Einsteins, but because in my experience, my children become cranky after a certain amount of time – be it TV, iPad, games or whatever – even a trip to the Zoo has time limits, because there is only so much my child can take in. This might not be true for all kids.
I am also a firm believer in age-appropriate material, again because I have noticed that it causes undue stress in my children when they watch or read something that has no place in their primary colored world. Sometimes they are inevitably exposed to some material, like a picture in the newspaper or a magazine left open– then I or my husband, pitch in with some version of manageable truth and they tell stories to themselves about the incident to explain it away.
Like any parent I am also against violence but my 7-yr old has water guns and a plastic Armour complete with a wooden sword. He also plays Angry Birds and bakes cakes on the iPad. My almost 4-yr old was exposed to television when she was 2.5 because of her brother (who did not know what TV was till he was 3 ½), but I have, till date, no proof that my daughter is lagging behind her brother in any mental activity because of this early exposure.
I do not have a crystal ball, so I cannot say whether my children will grow up to be great communicators or will be loners. But I believe that the praise or blame lies not in technology but in providing my children with some reasonable boundaries. So I am not going to beat myself up over them growing up with iPads or laptops or whatever because, ultimately, they are molded by more than just me and my husband. They were never going to live in an isolated bubble, just as they will catch chicken-pox or a cold or something, they are going to have the omnipresent iWorld around them and both we and they have to learn to live with this and adapt it to suit our very human needs like companionship, love and acceptance. Indeed, what use is it to know John Keats’ parents’ names but not be able to appreciate his poems? I am sure my children will still be happy looking at a flower budding (provided there are still flowers) or holding hands with another human/robot.
- The Child, the Tablet and the Developing Mind (bits.blogs.nytimes.com)