The recent HuffPo article on 10 reasons why handheld devices should be banned for children under the age of 12 bothers me. A lot. I have seen and heard so many comments about children and the use of technology and most of it doesn't have a balanced perspective at all. Part of why this article irked me is because I was at an event recently with someone who admitted to growing up in a family where sports were a huge focus. Affection wasn't readily given, even when it was craved. This person indicated that their siblings were basically going the same route with their children. They made the decision to create a life of greater balance for their own family, limiting the number of sports activities, encouraging their child to do their best rather than BE the best and fostering an affectionate relationship. The person also raised criticism of children who use tech, saying "It's [sports] better than playing on an iPad."
Please tell me how over-scheduled children in sports don't get the same criticism as children in general who are using technology - both are interests (or non-interests), both can be overdone.
Now, I recognize that the HuffPo article specifically cites overuse of technology and I agree that is a problem, but this article also calls for parents to ban the use of tech for the first 12 years of life and I can't imagine a worse solution to a lack of balance.
Two of my friends have posted this article in the context of being open to discussion about the content, and I gave my two cents but I decided upon reading the article a second time that I have more to say. In the article, the author says:
I'm calling on parents, teachers and governments to ban the use of all handheld devices for children under the age of 12 years.
Here's why I don't plan to jump on this ban-wagon:
1. Rapid brain growth
When Brandon started talking, it was a slow start. He had zero interest in TV of any kind until I showed him a Baby Signing Time video at 20 months old. We rarely ever had the TV on in his presence prior to this time. The first time he watched BST, he said 5 words. FIVE words in half an hour where he'd said said only a handful previously. He got hooked on Baby Signing Time videos, learned lots of signs, but only watched a couple times a week. I liked that the videos were furthering his development and gave us the opportunity to interact and learn. We tried to be smart about what Brandon watched rather than making it a free for all. I have often wondered if he had it in him earlier, but just wanted to observe the world a little longer. Watching TV did not delay my son's development; that was already happening before he watched any TV.
2. Delayed Development
The author states that "Technology use restricts movement, which can result in delayed development." This is a symptom of overuse - not balanced use. Further, she states, "One in three children now enter school developmentally delayed, negatively impacting literacy and academic achievement (HELP EDI Maps 2013)."
Brandon is developmentally delayed because he has autism (PDD-NOS, to be specific). In fact, the first apps I ever downloaded for him have all been educational games or interactive books. He's become proficient with puzzles, reading, and knew all his colours, numbers and shapes well before entering school - all because he was interested in technology. Today, Brandon reads beyond his age level and continues to have an avid interest in books. I read at least one book a day to him - more of than not, it's two or more. He re-reads books over and over as well. He's also reading to himself for long periods. This makes my book-loving heart absolutely giddy.
3. Epidemic Obesity
This is another symptom of lack of balance - both in activity and dietary habits. Brandon has physical activities through his daycare and sometimes school (it's harder with half-days), but he is also interested in and I will sign him up for one sport at a time. Beyond that, his father and I play with our son. Sometimes it's not as physical and it's definitely harder in the winter. Brandon has difficulty with the cold and it's a sensory issue. His diet isn't as good as I'd like it to be, but it's something we work hard to keep balanced.
4. Sleep Deprivation
60% of parents do not supervise their child's technology usage, and 75% of children are allowed technology in their bedrooms (Kaiser Foundation 2010).
From the time he was born, Brandon slept like a dream. I always said when I was pregnant that the 9 months of insomnia would improve after the baby came. People laughed at me. (Totally understandable since it's a crapshoot whether you get a good sleeper.) My son slept through the night (7 hours) at 10 weeks, then maintained two 2-hour naps every single day until he was nearly 2.5 years old. Then he continued to need a single nap until just a few months ago when he about 5.5 years old. He dropped his nap on weekends before he dropped it at daycare. He now sleeps about 10 hours a night. And he's allowed to use his iPod or iPad without supervision and in his room during certain times we've set that he's allowed to have access to them. The two devices he uses are his and have controls set up to prevent him accessing anything we don't already approve of. If he wants to watch YouTube, he has to do it with us and we rarely let him. You would be amazed at how proficient he is at using the technological tools he has. It's increased his confidence so much!
5. Mental Illness
Autism is a fact of our life. I firmly believe that it was a fact before Brandon was even born, so this assertion that, "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 (Bristol University 2010, Mentzoni 2011, Shin 2011,Liberatore 2011, Robinson 2008)", is disturbing to me. Technology use did not cause my son's autism. I do believe that his autism puts him at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, and attachment disorder. An unbalanced life puts anyone at a greater risk of those things as well. Is that a reason for me to take tech away from him? Not in my opinion.
Violent media and games have been blamed for violence by various studies for many years. And many other studies have disproven this correlation. I think aggressive behaviour is complex and cannot be reduced to one cause. Can violent content contribute? Sure. Do I allow my son to watch violent movies or TV shows and play violent games? Not unless it's Star Wars at this stage of his life. I'm more of a Mario and Luigi kinda girl. But even if he starts to be interested in more violent games, TV and movies in the future (hey, I like Law & Order: SVU and that's violent), I believe that the example that he has from myself and Matt will far outweigh any influence a video game or TV show can have.
Besides, you'd think that putting Brandon on restrictions from using his devices would result in major upset. It doesn't. He understands our expectations and has been accepting when we've had to enforce consequences. "No iPad for the rest of the day" gets a very compliant "Okay, Mom."
7. Digital dementia
I agree with this wholeheartedly: "Children who can't pay attention can't learn."
This is an area Brandon struggles with. I believe it's an issue that can be addressed by incorporating strategies in his learning environment through regular communication with his teachers and the school. We're on top of that for him. But here's the thing: I don't think technology is the reason Brandon struggles with paying attention. I think the reason varies. Sometimes it's the way information is presented, sometimes it's the topic. We've known for a long time that different children have different optimal learning styles. Maybe we need to start thinking about what motivates children and why rather than making a blanket judgement call that isn't going to apply in every case.
I think it's important for parents to learn to balance technology use - or any other interest a child has. The example we show our kids is what they will practice themselves when they get older. However, just like talking about food, when we start talking about normal, necessary use as "addiction" (Crackberry anyone?) it creates a guilt complex over even the smallest use. Brandon has no problem telling me to put my phone down when he needs or wants my undivided attention. He rarely asks unless he's impatient, but I also don't have a problem putting it down - immediately if I'm not doing anything important; otherwise I explain what I'm doing. I spend time with Brandon daily with no devices in our presence.
9. Radiation emission
We don't know nearly enough about this and studies are inconclusive. There may never be a definitive causal relationship established between wireless/mobile device use and cancer. Just as we may never have a definitive cause identified for autism. (Do you know how many different theories there are? It makes my brain hurt.) Given that we - as a family - have established boundaries and balance that we feel are acceptable, this is a risk I'm comfortable with unless more conclusive evidence surfaces. There's a lot of stuff in this world that put us all at a greater risk for cancer, in my humble opinion.
And this is where the article completely lost me:
The ways in which children are raised and educated with technology are no longer sustainable (Rowan 2010). Children are our future, but there is no future for children who overuse technology.
This goes back to overuse, which is not the same as balanced use. Beyond that, it's an extremist blanket statement (even about overuse) that goes too far. Many would look at my technology use and judge me as an overuser. And yet somehow I've managed to build a business that is based around digital technologies and hold many successful jobs where I relied heavily and almost exclusively on technology to do my job more efficiently and effectively.
The missing element: balance
This article never talks about teaching our kids boundaries and balance. So many of the issues that the author points to are about balance. They are about establishing boundaries and expectations as a parent. They are about having and teaching boundaries and balance as a user of technology - parent to child. Never mind that the article never even addresses the distinct differences between one child and the next. The human race isn't one size fits all, so a ban may have huge consequences for one group and work out positively for another, but there is no way to predict, so parents should actually be encouraged to do what's right for their individual child.
On a similar note, I have long believed that COPPA is a dangerous law the way it's being interpreted by social networks (it restricts social networks and other membership websites from collecting data from minors). This means that children under 13 are essentially not allowed to join these networks. Many parents disregard these rules (yay for civil disobedience over stupid rules that undermine parental authority!) and allow their children to have Facebook and other social media accounts earlier. I've seen so much judgement passed on parents who make this choice:
- It's teaching them rules don't matter/don't need to be followed.
- It's teaching them to break the law. (This is not actually true, by the way.)
- It's teaching them it's okay to lie (about their age to join)...okay, that one may have some merit. However:
I think what it actually teaches those kids (when parents have this intention) is to use social media safely and responsibly as early as possible. It gives them exposure to the tools, how they work and the opportunity to discuss what content is and is not appropriate. Try teaching that to a 13-year-old who just wants to do whatever they want with a heavy dose of attitude as a bonus. I'd rather start teaching my almost-six-year-old what Facebook is, with supervision and lots of time for discussion about how social media works. By the time he's "old enough" to use social tools, he's got experience and (hopefully) better judgement than a kid who's never been exposed.
Given that I've always felt this way about social media, it's not a huge shock that I feel similarly about the use of technology.