Monday, May 13, 2013

Published 8:12 AM by with 2 comments

Do Children Have Too Much Access to Technology? Part 2

This is a continuation of my thoughts from a previous post. Please read part one first, if you haven't done so yet!


After more discussion, questions, asking for advice, and research, Chris and I feel more sure that going the route of minimal technology with our child(ren) is the best plan for our family. Here are two of our main reasons for this decision: we believe that young people need to have their selves and minds firmly established in reality before floating away through the digital ether, and we want our children to have the foundations of physical hobbies and a love of nature.

This generation of children is growing up with instantaneous access to fast-paced entertainment everywhere they turn. Television, iPad, iPod, video game systems: all intended to provide quick "fun", a flashing story, a thrill of conquering, a bit of instant information, and more. It is all NOW; it is immediate gratification. Small wonder that a child's attention span becomes less and less able to focus, as I hear so many parents complain, or that children and even toddlers can become seriously addicted to technology!

If you spend time with a baby you will notice that they explore their world with all their senses. They touch, smell, nibble, suck, poke, smack, listen, look, and absorb everything around them with their whole bodies in motion. Technology only stimulates a very limited set of their growing skills. One woman wisely states that she believes computers are "superb tools",  but "they’re not for young children whose bodies and beings are hardwired to upload the realities of their immediate worlds. Let them learn, according to their natures, not according to advertising’s genius at selling stuff.  Children need trees, friends, bikes, things like that. In time, kids will pick up basic computer skills with frightening agility, so there’s absolutely no need to start early."

With the advent of social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, children (most young people don't wait until the "legal" age of thirteen to get a profile) also have to face a completely new level of confusion beyond the already complex systems of face-to-face interactions. As one author says, modern day children are forced at an early age to "try on different identities. With social media, teens have the opportunity (and challenge) to play with the digital self -- which can be harder and harder to distinguish from the physical self as collisions take place between virtual and real, and as the lines between the digital and physical grow blurred and indistinguishable....It effectively places them in the unenviable and daunting spot of having to play the equivalent of 50 games of "telephone," that group activity you may remember from childhood in which participants whisper a message to another participant at the same time... The "final" message is a far cry from the intended meaning initiated at the start of the game. And the end result can often be public, permanent and painful."

Along with the emergence of online identities comes the worry that children may become so entrenched in technology and immediate satisfaction that they might miss out on learning some very important life skills. Sherry Turkle, a professor of science, technology and society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of the book “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other", has interviewed parents, teenagers and children about the use of gadgets during early development. She says "that children who do not learn real interactions, which often have flaws and imperfections, will come to know a world where perfect, shiny screens give them a false sense of intimacy without risk. And they need to be able to think independently of a device. They need to be able to explore their imagination. To be able to gather themselves and know who they are. So someday they can form a relationship with another person without a panic of being alone. If you don’t teach your children to be alone, they’ll only know how to be lonely.”

As I have been discovering for myself recently, real life is far more interesting and important than spending all my time constantly checking Facebook. It's a long process, but I'm slowly whittling down the time I spend online in general, especially as Harmony gets older and is more observant of my actions. These last few months have been wonderful because she is experiencing spring for the first time! We spend more time outside since that's her favorite place to be. (Now if only my allergies would abate; outside time has lessened this past week because the ridiculous amounts of pollen have been making me miserable.) 

This is what we want Harmony to love: nature, playtime at the park, weather of all kinds, and exploration of her world. Perhaps if more children were allowed/encouraged/enabled to immerse themselves in true nature, then we would have more grounded, peaceful people. But "instead of whiling away the hours discovering wilderness with friends, young people are exploring in solitude the warrens of the less pristine internet," as one author writes. 

We don't think technology is evil. 

We just want it to have a correct place in our lives, below the priorities of family, real friends, hands-on activities, the outdoors, travel, adventure, active play. 

We want Harmony and any other children we have to be reliant first upon their imaginations, their ingenuity, their resourcefulness, their hands, their minds, before turning to the computer for anything. 

We want Harmony to have the ability to turn her phone off (although she won't be getting a phone for quite a long time), leave it in the car, and go on a long hike, or enjoy a dinner party, or go camping, or explore the city, using her eyes and ears and self to investigate and interact instead of gluing them to her phone every two minutes. 

We don't want Harmony to need to sign up for a "digital detox" camp someday, just so she can learn to function on a basic level without technology. 

We hope that we will be able to live a humble, active, exciting, mutually beneficial life as a family focused on each other, instead of focused on our iPad or computer or phone.

We want to teach Harmony how to truly be alive. And that means living life, not living vicariously through a screen. 

Edit: I've had several people sincerely/gently leave comments for me on Facebook saying that balance is the most important thing to achieve with technology. I absolutely agree! In the first post about this subject (linked at the top of page) I wrote this, which I wanted to share here again as well, because I whole-heartedly believe it:

I'm not about to forbid all electronics from my home either. If you deny a child something completely, then they often become entranced with it as the forbidden fruit, so instead we want to teach moderation and wisdom. We have a television, a computer, an iPad, an iPod, a radio, and cell phones in our home (no smart phones, just the basic call and text phone without internet). We all enjoy time to veg out in front of a good movie or listen to a TED talk online or browse the news on Google. I can chat with friends all over the world via Skype. Email and this blog connect me with lovely readers and writers and dreamers. Technology does great and wonderful things in our world today.

We all want balance in our lives. That is what we hope, and aspire, to achieve. 


Greg Kern said...

Hi Alyssa:

Thanks as always for posting some heart-felt thoughts about timely topics. You're a very good writer!

I think just about any parent would agree, in general, with the things you've written on this topic,
and I include Sharon and myself in that group.

The only difference I might have with these comments would be this:
It's all about BALANCE. There is a tendency in our time to push back a little too hard on "Technology", just because it's the latest craze, and it's so pervasive. There are other things, however, that might fit into that same space: If my kid was a bookworm, would I not encourage him to put down his books, sometimes, and go hang out with some buddies?

If my daughter was always running off to the mall with her friends, or to the beach to hang out with friends, but never cracked a book, dislikes reading, and whose penmanship and grammaer were horrible, would I not encourage her to spend some time at the kitchen table, improving these skills?

Indeed, don't we all WANT our kids to develop some advanced Computer skills, throughout ALL their lives (starting at a very young age), in order to function successfully in the world in which they will find themselves, when they are our age?

You probably agree with this idea of Balance (no matter what it is we're talking about, in terms of our children's development)... And of course I don't disagree that Tech can -- and often does -- take over a kid's life.

Just thought it might be good to note it.

We ALL miss out on the many revelations of the Glory of God if we miss that awesome "5 senses" thing. I truly think this is part of what Jesus meant when He said that those who come to Him must do so as a CHILD... That childish wonder, and that simple enjoyment, of drinking deeply from ALL the experiences of Life...

Lyssa said...

You're absolutely right, Greg! Thank you for the reminder that balance is the ultimate goal : )