Walk with me down this little essay about technology and its effects on children. I just read an Atlantic article titled “The Touch-Screen Generation,” by Hanna Rosin. The subtitle was “What’s this technology doing to our toddlers’ brains?”
Like any good journalist, she tries not to take a side, good or bad, she presents us with the facts, the research. And just as I saw the Love Bug reaching for my iPhone, that magical thing where pictures pop up and familiar voices captivate mommy’s attention, I understood immediately how tablets like iPads, with their instant interactivity, would delight a child.
In the five years between my children’s birth, a lot happened. The Rocker was sitting on his father’s knee at the computer, he had computers in school, he was designing web pages for his buddies in middle school. For his older sister the Bride, life was different. In fact, she was the only toddler in her preschool who didn’t know who Big Bird was; our Windsor Mountain TV could only catch one Albany channel, at night, sometimes. We read Good Night Moon, we sang songs. Like “Little House on the Prairie,” it was a simple life, and one I would dream of years later. It’s where I first started writing for a newspaper…you remember those.
Still, my children didn’t grow up with a touch screen.
“Norman Rockwell never painted Boy Swiping Finger on Screen, and our own vision of a perfect childhood has never adjusted to accommodate that now-common tableau…To date, no body of research has definitively proved that the iPad will make your preschooler smarter …or rust her neural circuity – the device has been out for only 3 years.”
What’s the right answer? We (meaning people age 4 and above) are called “digital immigrants,” still learning to navigate the touch-screen universe. Rosin admits to having a 4 year old who feels digitally deprived. After all, you’re out for a nice dinner, toddler in hand, and instead of toting coloring books and small animals for some creative play at the table, how much easier would it be to mollify a cranky child with a movie or game App? The Love Bug is a digital native, she watches mom carefully summoning music from the great iPad, her dad reading research papers. It won’t be long now before her long fingers will demand the latest “Talking Baby Hippo” or “Toca Tea Party.” Yes, even 18 month olds can follow patterns and pay attention to a logical sequence in an interactive media format!
I came away from the article with this little nugget – however the parents use their tablet, children will naturally follow. It’s called “modeling” and it’s not really a new concept. Some allow free and constant access to an iPad, some allow one hour on the weekend. The funny thing was that when Rosin was trying out the unlimited time-frame idea, her child gave it up to the toy heap after about 10 days! The iPad became just another toy in the box.
So, just like TV and video games, parents have a right to be scared of the latest gizmo. Nothing really can beat one to one face-time with a parent, cooking together, reading an old-fashioned book. How we approach using the iPad sends myriad signals to our children. Do we stare at it ad nauseum? Do we reach for it before the baby? Are we addicted to touching its magical screen? The Rocker once said he was happy he didn’t have cell phones in middle school. Touche!
Practicing her pincer grasp, getting ready to swipe.