Cris Rowan’s Huffington Post article entitled “10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12” has been all over my Facebook wall, having been shared over 350,000 times at this writing, and has gotten a good bit of traction. I’m sure a lot of parents go way overboard with technology, and end up using TV, tablets, computers and smartphones as knowing or un-knowing crutches for actual parenting involvement. I’m also fairly sure that the number of people actively trying to prove that their 6-year-old being constantly glued to Angry Birds is “healthy” for their development are the same types who try desperately to prove that diets of purely chocolate and beer are somehow good for them in the long run.
But still, BANNED? “Banned” is a really strong word to use on technology. So, I took her article as food for thought, and wanted to offer my own thoughts on the matter.
To recap, her basic 10 points were:
- The rapid brain growth of kids ages 0-2 would be impaired by lack of environmental stimuli, owing to over-exposure to technology.
- Technology overuse leads to delays in physical development
- TV & video game use correlates with epidemic obesity
- Sleep deprivation due to parents allowing kids to take electronic devices to bed unsupervised
- “Technology overuse is implicated as a causal factor in rising rates of child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit, autism, bipolar disorder, psychosis and problematic child behavior.”
- Exposure to violent TV & video games engendering aggressive behaviour in kids.
- “Digital dementia” leading to attention deficit and inability to learn stemming from media over-exposure.
- Addictions to video games & devices, and at the same time, parents becoming less attached to their kids
- Radiation emissions from devices
- “It’s unsustainable” to raise & educate kids with technology.
Here are my 10 counterpoints to the above.
1) A “Handheld Device Ban” isn’t going to replace one deciding to be a more actively-INVOLVED parent. Obviously, not every day will be spent outside exploring the world. Especially when it’s cold & rainy like it is as I type this. As such, things that kids read in books, see on a movie or on their ABCMouse computer learning setup all provide a million opportunities for discussion. But they’re lost if you don’t discuss them. Heck, even watching Star Wars together gave us our first discussions of right, wrong, good & evil – and demonstrating that even a bad guy like Darth Vader can change his mind and be good.
I’m sure there are plenty of parents out there that do just that – staying in close communication with their kids, keeping an eye on what they’re doing, and taking every opportunity that presents itself to either clear up things they don’t get, discuss important points they see, or step in where they’re watching/doing something that’s either over their head or entirely inappropriate.
But, in a family that uses technology as a way to pacify children so that the parents can do something else – where dad’s just off watching football and mom’s out with her friends and the iPod Touch is given to the child as a way to keep them quiet – well, taking away the iPod Touch isn’t going to get that family any more involved as a family much less engaged with each other’s interests..
The study I quoted on my No TV in Our House article basically makes my whole point:
- Number of minutes per week that parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children: 3.5
- Number of minutes per week that the average child watches television: 1,680
- Percentage of day care centers that use TV during a typical day: 70
- Percentage of parents who would like to limit their children’s TV watching: 73
- Percentage of 4-6 year-olds who, when asked to choose between watching TV and spending time with their fathers, preferred television: 54
- Hours per year the average American youth spends in school: 900 hours
- Hours per year the average American youth watches television: 1500 hours
2) You “Ban” your kid categorically from using something, and he’ll just want to use it more. There are certainly things in the house that can be banned – or at least banned until the child is old enough to handle one. But the common denominator on these things is that one could demonstrably show to the child why it is he can’t have one or use one now. Like, you’re not going to give your 6-year-old a handgun. You wouldn’t give him a ’65 Chevy Camaro hot rod. You wouldn’t give him a full-size katana. And if he asks, you could easily show him why. But if you and your wife both have an iPad and smartphones and such and you tell him that he can NEVER TOUCH THEM EVER until he’s 12 – that’ll just sound like a random, made-up rule. And I don’t know about you, but when I was 8, I could sniff out random made-up rules pretty fast, and work out how to do it anyhow. If my parents had banned me from such, that’d be the easiest way I could think of to make me addicted to technology later in life.
3) Let a child see for himself that being out enjoying life is better than being stuck in front of a computer screen. I’ve got a 4-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy, and I take them outside constantly. They play with bikes, they hang out in the sandbox, they paint, they do train tracks, explore the woods, and burn calories outside like nobody’s business. My daughter also got a little tablet for Christmas where she can do little educational games. I just let her on it for a while and she, on her own, decided that she’s only good for about a half-hour or less on it before she decides she’d rather be somewhere else running around with her brother. And now, that decision of “I’ve had enough” is entirely under her control – which is where I want it anyhow, as a parent.
4) A “Handheld Device Ban” alone isn’t going to get your kids outside, if you’re not out there with them. Each of the points in the HuffPost article above assume over-exposure to technology. If you ban your kids from getting on the computer, you’re going to need to replace that with SOMETHING. And you’d better be prepared to DO that something.
I am a System Administrator by trade, so my life is spent in front of arrays of computer screens and devices and blinking lights. But, having grown up in the countryside of Maine, I made a conscious decision on becoming a daddy that I wanted my kids to be maximally engaged with the OUTSIDE WORLD. Yes, the world they’ll inherit will be all about electronics & gimigahoogits and wearable thises and thats, and I know that in the natural course of things, they’ll pick up some tablets, they’ll figure out how to use touch screens & mice and that’ll all happen. But if I don’t put a lot of conscious attention on getting them outside, finding out how water carves canyons, how squirrel footprints differ from chipmunk prints, how amazing it feels to take a mountain bike down a narrow trail at 30 miles per hour or stand on top of a hill you just climbed — well, if I don’t take them out to do that they will just become like the Buy & Large blobs from the movie “Wall-E”.
5) Why single out “Handheld Devices”? What about TV? Internet? Computer games? Whilst the title of the article mentions banning handheld devices, the points the author makes are not centered around these at all but around all forms of media ingest – and what happens when you let them all run wild. It’s the exact reason why my family hasn’t had a TV for the last 14 years. You let a child loose, unsupervised and unfettered for an unlimited amount of time on any device, without putting dedicated work into getting them sufficient physical exercise and mental stimulation from the rest of their environment, and you’re not going to get a good result.
6) Both constructive and destructive content for children can be played on any device (TV, phone, tablet, computer). I’m the last person that’s going to disagree with studies that show the sheer volume of crap being shoved down our collective throats from network TV, depraved video games, and raunchy movies. It’s crap, and has no place in a young child’s life growing up.
However, especially when supervised or at least monitored by a parent, there’s a ton of great content out there that can help kids understand their world. Case in point – my kids do about an hour a day of ABCMouse.com Early Learning Academy. In addition to learning phonics, counting to large numbers, how to identify animals at the zoo by their sounds, and other such things, my kids happened across an audiobook about the Grand Canyon. Their fascination with this ended up on a big break-off discussion about how canyons are made, and a bunch of exploring around our woods by our house, finding streams that had cut little gorges through the forest by washing away the silt.
And now, owing to the content she’s seen on this site, both kids are pumped to take a road trip across the country to see things like the Great Lakes, Mt. Rushmore, and other such things they’ve found on this computer.
The point to illustrate is that the device being used isn’t the point – it’s how you use it, and what content you’re putting on it for them to ingest.
7) Violent video games, raunchy music videos and R-Rated movies have no place in a young child’s life, regardless of what device they’re played on. The article mentions handheld devices for kids under 12, but talks about the rampant immorality espoused by a game like Grand Theft Auto V. Something like GTA has no place whatsoever in a young child’s life regardless of device. I really don’t know what parents are allowing their 9 year olds to play games of that nature, but I don’t think anyone’s going to be surprised if their kids end up in a bad way.
8) Don’t let kids get addicted to them. Walking my kids around the monuments in Washington, DC, I constantly see parents pushing their 5-year-old kids around in strollers, the kids glued to an iPod Touch or a Nintendo 3DS instead of looking at where they are. And yes, this makes me sad and want to take those devices away myself, break them over my knee and hand them to their parents. So yes, kids can get addicted to these things. But I have two things to say about that:
(a) Yes, good control should be run by parents as to when it’s a good time to use a computer and when it’s time to LOOK OUTSIDE. But…
(b) Are you addicted to your own phone? What sort of example are you setting for them? Yes, it’s great to tell the kid to put his 3DS down when there’s stuff to be seen, but are you constantly buried in your own phone when he’s trying to show you something?
9) Blast your kid with words he doesn’t understand, and he’ll exhibit “attention deficit” – whether it’s coming from a handheld device, from TV or any other source. Yes, the article is correct that kids are being diagnosed left, right and center with “ADHD” because they “can’t focus”. Yes, they’re being drugged for it at absolutely sickening rates. But just know that taking his iPod away won’t make him better at math if he can’t focus on math. But, sitting with him and finding out words he’s encountered that he did not understand that his iPod was blasting at him – that might get you somewhere.
10) Kids should understand their world. Phones, laptops and tablets are part of it. Tablets, iPods, laptops, computers – they’re all a part of the world kids live in. They should be allowed to use these devices, grow to understand how they work, and learn how to care for one, just like they need to know how to care for a puppy or how to change a tire on a car.
Obviously, also, one doesn’t give something to a child that you’re not ready for them to be 100% responsible for. You can give a doll to a 3-year-old, because they can own it, and there’s no harm done if they mistakenly take it in the bath, leave it outside under the trampoline or in the sandbox. You wouldn’t give a $2000 laptop to a 5-year-old, obviously, because you know they haven’t the first clue how to care for it, use it, or how to keep themselves out of trouble with it. There’s no reason though, that you can’t let him use your own computer for a bit, but it’s still yours and you can impose whatever limits you like on it as it’s yours – but they at least can see how to use it, why it’s breakable, how to use the mouse, and so forth.
And then, whenever it is that you’re satisfied that your child can be 100% responsible for their electronic device (including, of course, using it responsibly, not staying up all night watching movies on it), I say give them one. And I’m not about to put a hard-limited age on that.