We are those parents who do not let our kids use technology. Call us old-fashioned, strict, or elitist. Eleanor watches the occasional T.V. show, and we let her use a tablet to watch movies when we travel, but that’s it. I had to quit reading on my iPad while nursing Henry because he would constantly swipe at the screen. Even a baby recognizes how mesmerizing those devices are.
I saw a post on Facebook by a friend whose young son received a tablet from his school. There were a lot of swooning comments from other parents about how cool this was. Eleanor’s school is in the midst of its fundraising campaign, and the letter to us noted that the school always needs more technology, that our children are digital natives who need to be engaged in learning.
I’m not sure that Eleanor is a digital native. Certainly she is used to screens everywhere, but we’ve raised her a little more horse-and-buggy style.
I am uncomfortable with what these gadgets do to our attention spans. I know that if I have my iPad nearby, I won’t read more than a few pages in a book or magazine before I’m reaching out to that slick screen. Scientists are finding more and more evidence that the feedback we get from these devices, the pings from emails and text messages, gives us a little rush. And we become addicted to that rush. I do worry that we’re starry-eyed over these devices and that our schools are spending a lot of money on something without much proof of results.
Probably the biggest job that young kids face is learning self control. For Eleanor to succeed at school, she must learn to sit still and focus on a task. I certainly want her to be engaged in learning — but in a deep way. Learning on a computer is fun for kids, but is it setting up a cycle in which they need constant feedback and stimulation to want to learn? My hope is that my kids will be engaged at school by good teaching and interaction with other children.
I would be afraid that my thinking was totally outdated (I majored in newspaper journalism, for crying out loud!) were I not married to a computer engineer who agrees with me. I’m not planning to keep our kids away from these devices forever. I know that someday they will type papers and create presentations and keep up with their friends on some device that I can’t yet fathom. I just think they’ll be better off — and much easier to reason with — if they learn self-discipline first.
(Our version of high-tech.)