Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Unplug your child... Please

GUEST POST BY KRISTY GOODWIN


This post has been brewing for a couple of months now. It’s sat in my drafts folder and I’ve deliberated about posting it. But now I’m feeling brave enough to say, “Unplug your child…please.”


Why've I been so tentative?

To be completely honest, I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite.

I don’t ever want to sound like I’m ‘should-ing’ on you. I never want to do that!
I’ve previously talked about techno-shame. I don’t want this post to feel like I’m doing just that… techno-shaming.

I also don’t want you to think that I’ve got this parenting thing sorted out. I’m not perfect & know that some days I’m far from the ideal parent.

As parents we’re all doing the best we can. It’s a hard gig and made all the more complicated by this digital world we now found ourselves trying to navigate.

I live by Maya Angelou’s saying, “When you know better you do better.”

I want this post to just make you think. I want it to make you pause and reflect- how and why are you using technology with your children?

But I also feel compelled to share this post. It’s almost like a moral obligation. I’ve felt so uneasy observing some recent situations. And that tells me something.

Three recent incidents have confirmed my intuitive thoughts that this post needs to be shared. So here goes…

1. The Café:
We’ve just moved house and we now live above a cafe.  So for a keen social observer (aka – a sticky beak) that means I’ve had lots of opportunity to observe. And I’ve been shocked.

As a popular spot for parents, this cafe has lots of toddlers and young children visit. And sadly, I see lots of children handed over an iPhone or tablet device the minute they sit down.  Sometimes it’s even placed on the table before the child is placed in a seat (or even a high chair).

Now I understand that sometimes you need a sanity saver and your phone or tablet can pacify and upset child. I raise my hand I’ve done that at a doctor’s surgery and sitting in the car in horrendous Sydney traffic.

So please don’t think I’m techno-shaming the ‘pass back effect’. Been there done that. And probably will do it again. Soon.

But I’m concerned. Really concerned.

Why are some parents so quick to hand over their iDevice?

Some of these children have not even been given the opportunity to sit and chat at the table (or attempt to tip the sugar dispenser all over the table).

They are digitally pacified. 

Unplug your child…please.

2. The Supermarket
The next incident that really stirred up some concern was at the local supermarket.  On two separate occasions I’ve bumped into the same mum with her two children. And on both instances they were seated in a pram, each holding an iPad.  As Mum went about her groceries, the children stared at their respective screens. There was absolutely no interaction. None.

And I can’t help but think about these missed opportunities. As a Mum of two very young children I know how difficult it is to do groceries with children in tow. It’s damn hard.

Shopping with kids is tedious, but it can also be a great way to connect and interact. It can be a rich opportunity for incidental learning.  ”How many bananas should we get?”, “What shape is the box?”

There was absolutely no interaction with these children. They sat there like digital zombies for the entire shopping expedition.

So please don’t think I’m saying you shouldn’t ever use your iDevice with your child at the shops. I will never ‘should on you’.

But please reconsider always pacifying your child with an iDevice.

Unplug your child…please.

3. The Change Room
The third incident that triggered this post was something that I didn’t personally witness. But when my friend told me the story I was flabbergasted. Jaw on the ground kinda flabbergasted.

My friend and her son were changing after their swimming lesson and another mother-son team were doing the same. Before the towel was unwrapped from the toddler, an iPad was placed in his hands. His mother then had to dress her toddler who was wielding the iPad in all sorts of contorted positions.

Really? The change room?

Unplug your child…please.

No-Go Tech Zones
Surely there are some places and spaces that should be tech-free zones? The change room being one of them (and I thought the public toilets was another but I recently discovered that even public toilets are no longer tech-free zones).

What sorts of social behaviours and habits are we establishing when we pacify children with digital devices all of the time?

I think we’re sending our children very powerful messages and forming possible life-long media habits when we always hand over devices to children.

We don’t always need to be entertained by a screen. Sitting in your own company is important and it’s a skill to develop.  You can’t develop this skill if you are fixated on a screen. All.the.time.

We don’t always need to be plugged in.

Children need to learn social protocol and etiquette. And you certainly can’t do that if your face is buried in an iPad.

Children do not need to be constantly plugged in.

It’s okay for their minds to sit idle for a while.

It’s okay for them to be bored.

It’s okay for them to entertain themselves (even if it is with the sugar dispenser at the cafe table).

It’s okay for them to get dressed without digital devices.

So why are we in a hurry to pacify, entertain and console today’s children with digital devices?

Sure, it’s easy and a quick fix. Your smartphone is usually in your pocket, or the tablet is tucked in your handbag. And when there’s the cockroach tantrum ensuing (or in full force) your device can do the trick (as can a key ring, or a packet of pencils and some paper, or even a book). Quick smart.

But I think that maybe there are other reasons we’re using screens to pacify, entertain and console our children.

Perhaps we’re scared that our children might get bored (heaven forbid!).  Perhaps as parents we’re under so much pressure to constantly entertain our children that we’re petrified that if we don’t we aren’t doing a good job (crazy logic, right?).

Boredom is essential. It’s a brilliant way to cultivate creativity and play (in fact we’ve even got some recent research evidence that shows us that children who are given more opportunities for unstructured activities have better goal setting abilities than their counterparts who engage in more structured activities).

So please, just think twice before you plug your child into an iDevice…especially when there are people to chat with (and sugar dispensers to empty, groceries to wrangle and clothes to negotiate).

I’d love to hear in the comments below,  do you think we’re becoming too quick to pacify children with iDevices? Does this trend worry you?

Dr Kristy Goodwin, from Every Chance to Learn, is a children’s technology and brain researcher and mum. She helps confused and concerned parents navigate young children’s digital world by translating the latest brain and technology research into digestible information and practical tips.

Twitter: @chancetolearn  


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