Sunday, November 27, 2011

Parenting and Technology are Complicated

photo ©Apple

First, let me point out the irony of blogging about screen-free parenting. It's a bit like "jumbo shrimp," or "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here, this is the war room!"

But this is where we are in 2011. Telling everyone about recycling on an expensive gadget that will end up in a landfill in short order. For example. Offering so many choices, that it's changing the landscape of our society, as Barry Schwartz wrote about choice-making here, as Gabriel Kahane talked about creative loss (at the end of the interview with Audie Cornish) here, as John Tierney wrote about decision fatigue here as Richard Louv wrote about here. And more, of course.

I participate in a Mommy listserv of at least 2000 local moms. It started as a breastfeeding support group, which over the years has morphed into a chat room of topics from babies to new apartments to great hostess gifts. Last week, someone posted: What's the best tablet I should put on my two-year-old darling's Christmas list? iPad, or can I save a few bucks on something else?

Come on, seriously?! An iPad for your two-year-old? Because his iPhone is boring him? Because his big-screen TV won't fit in the car? Because he needs to be online at all times to maintain his high score in Angry Birds?

Doesn't anyone read the papers anymore? Even the mainstream Pediatricians are saying absolutely no TV before age two.

And I posted a reply saying as much. When you teach elementary school, you get a fast forward on the state of culture at certain age levels. How do you explain the dog-and-pony show that children expect in school these days, as they sit and wait for entertainment, like they get from their gaming devices at home? How do you explain that our society has no idea what kids need developmentally because they think the school making kindergarteners sit still for an hour to "bubble in" poorly written state test questions is what will keep kids "competitive" worldwide? How do you explain that if a kid doesn't learn to skip, or jump one-foot-to-two-feet by the end of kindergarten, he will end up years behind in Math, because he hasn't built the necessary neural pathways?

How do you explain how difficult it is to teach the kid whose brain is wired for technology, rather than problem-solving in the here and now?

A "gift" of an iPad for a two year old isn't educational, it's a detriment. It's a curse on a child, placing a governor on his imagination. Legos are a better gift. Or Ostheimer animals and people.

Well, the mommy who posted the question is a Feminist Pig, and needed to respond.

No, seriously, that's not name-calling — that's what she calls herself. And in addition to the trademark karate chop, apparently she is one of those über-moms who weaves her son his clothing out of the gossamer silk from the ancestral worms she raised by hand, she genetically engineers organic heirloom tomatoes back to their original and more nutritious pre-1700 strains, while living in a home she built herself with her partner (with the help, maybe, of the stubborn mule who carried their belongings across the prairie as they walked alongside in organic faux-leather moccasins), and the house is built out of scavenged, felled trees that did not bear the emotional trauma of the axe. The family sings to it weekly to heal the ache of the fall.

Her son is clever as well, having directed an orchestra at St. Martin's and having read Zola in the original French.

And the mommies on the list praised her, and cheered. And it was good. And lo, the mommies chastised me, for condemning this angel, nay, this saint! to the point of having to list every wood toy she'd ever bought for her son, every genuine art activity, to assure the whole list that she eats Organic and point out that he was in Montessori school. And this child deserves an iPad!

We believe, as a culture of the "free market" (speaking of oxymorons), that because we are good people, unpleasant things should not happen to us. Because we are so attentive in one area, that we can cheat a little in another. I wish it always were true! But even when I've had several long nights with my thrashing toddler followed by a trying morning, and just this once — I swear! Just this once! — I have a tall, delicious, bubbling, sugary fountain Coke, I still get bloated and am a pound heavier the following week. Even though I earned it! I deserve it!

Sometimes the choice of saying "No," is the best choice. Not: Should I buy A or B, but: Should I buy anything at all? But in a culture whose religion is capitalism, and mothers and educators are devalued because an expert firm with statistics clearly know better, it's easy to see how the original question was lost in favor of cheering the mom who is living the cultural dream: creating an idyllic, old-fashioned, country lifestyle in an urban setting — with a good, full-time job — while Providing the Best Technology For Her Child.

But why should we shield our children from technology? Isn't it always amazing? More about that in the next post.

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