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Should I let my child use an iPad? A response

Recently read this article from Children’s MD blog. They usually have very good posts, but I disagree with this mom doc’s opinion on allowing children to use ipads.

Children’s short attention span and immature working capacities often make it difficult for adults to do the tasks that need to be done. Offering them a distraction may seem like the way to go. I am sure there are electronic programs/apps that are quite good, I have simply not met any yet that I have found truly challenging in a way that has helped me learn in a lasting manner.

As archaic as it is, our minds are used to learning by doing, by feeling the rough grooves in the alphabet blocks….etc. Children feel and remember these sensations much more strongly than we as adults do. It is the building blocks of their memory and their connection to our world and humanity as a whole. It is our duty as adults to facilitate these contacts for them as much of this as possible; so they can experience more than the smooth texture of an ipad, the perfectly contrasted colors and lights of a screen. The window is small. When we are grown our minds are used to ignoring these things. Yet these sensations, and the memories of these sensations, are what makes the world real to us, and makes living joyful.

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I don’t believe that educators who are against electronics say so because they are afraid of being replaced by electronics. In fact, some nurseries and daycares that do not fear parental disapproval find it the best way to babysit children without the need to engage them in otherwise manpower intensive activities (set-up, guidance, cleanup).  Ask yourself: If you send your toddler to a nursery, would you be happy with them having ‘computer time, TV time’? Or would you prefer they prepare materials for them to explore with their hands, songs for them to practice singing? Is the use of digital objects just something that only YOU allow yourself to use as a distraction/education for them when you are the main caregiver? I am not saying that more labor-intensive work with a child makes you a better educator/parent (this seems to be a frequent argument made in the case of sleep-training, but let’s not get into that). The main problem is: because digital programs are designed to be so engrossingly perfect, it leaves little room for the imagination to blossom. And, this may sound counter-intuitive, but children need to learn to tolerate ‘boredom’, to deal with the frustration of not being able to do things. Only in this vacuum can they learn to create for themselves. And that is the height of human experience. We are not all consumers of what is sweet and lovely, but makers of our world and our reality. We may feel like we are having them ‘miss out’ on vital stimulation when other children are already ‘mastering’ the skills of apps on the iPad. But these things can wait. That they are designed for children’s maturity level doesn’t mean that they fulfill children’s holistic developmental needs at their current age. And the fact that there will always be new technology makes the ability to master the technology we have today a moot skill.

One strong indicator of whether electronics function effectively as educational tools are the numerous parents who work in these fields who allow their children to use them. My husband used to work in entertainment law, he says none of the people who work in the TV business allow their children to watch TV. And the news from silicon valley is that charter schools there that Do Not introduce computers before high school are extremely popular among the wealthy families.

What to do, then? A toddler can be impossible in the kitchen. At that age, they have a strong desire to see what you are doing and participate. There are simple ways to allow the child to participate in food prep that can be deeply satisfying for both parent and child: Have your child stand on a safe higher surface like The Learning Tower and have them transfer cut up peas for you into the prep bowl, stir mixtures…etc. Sometimes simply observing your work can be satisfying to them. When their attention has come to its limit they will signal this to you by “messy play” – throwing food bits around, banging things. Then it is time to take off their apron and put them back on the ground. This sort of involvement in everyday life work takes patience though, and can often make work take a bit more time than parents are willing to invest.

Electronics are made to be ‘intuitive’: easy to master. We are frequently amazed that children learn to operate and navigate them. Does that mean that it is a greater aid for them to learn? Or will it lower their tolerance for learning disciplines and skills that require more patience and have less accessible interfaces? I would argue the latter. When I was much younger, my parents allowed me to watch a lot of tv while they were busy (dad getting his degree, mom baking/socializing/busy with new baby…etc). I still find my patience for the hard work and constant time that is required for learning certain skills (maths, languages, practicing an instrument, working in a lab…etc) very limited, and as such my abilities in such areas have not been as in-depth as I would have liked. My attention goes from one subject to another, so that some may call me broadly learned, but what our society needs are more focused individuals in specialized fields making advances in the fields of knowledge, of public policy, and industrialized goods, not simply people who are entertained and entertaining. In this manner I am crippled.

We like saying that computer-ish devices are more interactive (and educational) than TV, but does that hold up to research?

Multitasking using ubiquitous, interactive and highly stimulating computers and phones, Professor Anderson says, appears to have a more powerful effect than TV.

– from This NY Times Article

We have yet to get complete results in from the effects of electronics on this generation. It may be that we can evolve different forms of acquiring information and utilizing it. It may be a sentimental hindrance of a habit to our learning when we enjoy paperback books rather than digitalized publications. Time (and studies) will tell.

For more inspiration, check out this amazing article about

a boy with no toys http://lauragraceweldon.com/2012/02/20/the-boy-with-no-toys/

how Montessori viewed technology as a tool for children. http://thefullmontessori.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/protecting-the-natural-mind/

and Kathy von Duyke explaining how videos can be used, but why and how they should be limited  http://www.home-school.com/Articles/how-to-tame-the-video-monster.php

I understand that being a working mom can put quite a squeeze on one’s time, however, so my opinion here on the issue could be easier for those who can make the time in engaging and establishing steady expectations for their children.

If you give them space, they will grow.

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