She was probably about 4.
I watched as her grandma pulled her into the restaurant and sat her at the table. Grandma opened the tablet and started a game before heading to the line. It was Wednesday afternoon and Firehouse Subs wasn’t really all that busy. Grandma waited behind one person, ordered, and then sat down. Their food was delivered about two minutes later and that was when the scene got ugly.
Grandma took the tablet away and she let out a squeal that I’m sure could be heard down the street. “I was playing with that!” She spat at the poor lady. “Your food is here. Don’t you want to eat?” her grandma desperately pleaded.
“Not now.” She barked back.
The rest of the lunch went much like you would expect. Grandma gave the tablet back and ate her lunch while the kid’s meal sat untouched.
Now before we jump to any conclusions, I won’t even pretend to know the circumstances of this little girl’s life and what could be behind Grandma’s motives to allow her to behave that way. Her daddy might have left her mom the day before. Or perhaps her parents were killed in a tragic car accident. Perhaps there are some special needs that I am not aware of. As parents (and grandparents) there are sometimes situations that cause us to overlook behavior, whether that’s a good move or not.
I would never judge based on the observations made from afar. But it did make me think about what electronics are doing to my own parenting. Maybe you are like me and purposely avoided video games from the beginning, but somehow never considered the “tablet” a danger. I have to admit that it seems silly now, but at first it just didn’t come across as a big deal. I didn’t spend much time thinking about it. They seemed like a great idea.
The longer we’ve had these little tablets, the peskier they have become. They cause fights among siblings, create some sort of “selective hearing vacuum” for the user, and that’s just the beginning.
So the question seems fair. Could it really be that electronics are working against us?
Let’s consider some facts…
Electronics lead to disobedience.
Have you ever told a child to do something and gotten this response: “In a minute… I need to finish this level”? If you let your kids play video games or small electronic devices, I know you have. On the surface it doesn’t seem all that harmful. They just asked for an extra minute, right? But it doesn’t usually end up this way. We find ourselves hollering again several times in the minutes that follow. Trust me, I’m guilty, too.
The trouble is, these subtle little times of disobedience snowball into that nasty “teenage beast” that we are all trying to avoid. It doesn’t happen all at once, but these electronic devices begin to seep into all areas of our kids’ lives. One day we wake up and realize that somewhere between Minecraft and Angry Birds, we gave up our most important job as parents- to train our kids to obey!
Electronics lead to addictions and an even deeper loss of self-control.
Recently my youngest child (age 5) was out of town. When I talked to him on the phone he asked me if I would grab his iPad and check on his dragons because if he didn’t feed them, they would die. I’ll admit, it was cute and funny. But it once again reminded me of the goal of the app developers. They aren’t seeking to just entertain my child while I am sitting in the doctor’s office or driving on a long trip. They are aiming for that “can’t-put-this-game-down” syndrome. And they have succeeded. Here my son was, far away from the house, and all he could think about was feeding these imaginary dragons.
If you think I’m being a little over dramatic here, consider Candy Crush or Farmville. I’ve actually had many adult friends who have cancelled their Facebook pages because they couldn’t stop playing these games and it was affecting their ability to parent. Trust me- this is exactly the intention of the game makers. Well, not so much the quitting part. They want people to play non-stop at any cost to themselves. Just think for a second about the message this sends to our kids regarding what is important in life and how to resist temptation.
Electronics make us feel entitled.
Yeah, I know that just about any possession can do this, but for some reason the iPad in our home is the main nemesis. I can’t help but think about the story If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. The mouse just gets a little cookie and before long he is ready to take over the whole house. He can’t get enough and this causes him to lose his place as a guest.
I think electronics have this same impact. Kids get one game and suddenly they are entitled to an entire arsenal of instant entertainment. And it doesn’t stop there.
Electronics stifle our thinking.
So I had to throw this one in here just in case you weren’t aware. Researchers have proven time and time again that this type of visual stimulation stifles our thinking. It hinders our ability to sleep well and it has been linked over and over again to hyperactivity in children, as well as lower IQs.
According to Dr. Christakis, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, the rapidly moving images on TV and in video games may rewire the brains of very young children, making it difficult for them to focus on slower tasks that require more thought. (Pediatrics, April 2004) And that’s just one of many many studies done on the topic.
Electronics cause us to feel as though we must be entertained.
I saved the worst for last. Mostly because this is such an issue in our society. People are walking away from the church in droves because it’s “boring.” Children fail to focus in school and struggle to graduate because it’s again “boring.” This is our fault. Ahem. (Yeah, me too.) For decades we have been increasing the level of “entertainment” given to children. Our toddlers are spending 6-8 hours (or more) in front of a screen because our lives are too full to tend to them. And it’s ok because there are plenty of educational options, right?
Wrong. Just because TV or electronics have educational value does not make them the answer. They quickly cause one or maybe all of the above issues and we are then back at square one. And on top of that, we’ve now taught our children that our primary job as their parent is to entertain them when they are bored or when we think they might be incapable of sitting still.
Oh, I’m so guilty of this and it makes me mad at myself for giving in. Left to themselves, kids can and will find ways to entertain themselves. And their ways are usually so much more profitable, educational, and healthy than an iPad app. As a parent, I greatly desire this for them.
So what are we to do about this?
Well, I’ve never pretended to be a parenting expert before today and I won’t start now. But the answer seems obvious: all forms of electronics (TV, video games, tablets, and computers) should be VERY carefully considered. Instead of mindlessly agreeing, as parents, we need to calculate the cost. I don’t know that I think this means we should never have any of these things. In fact, it probably doesn’t mean that.
Perhaps it means that we don’t have as many devices or perhaps it means that they are limited in use. Maybe we would best benefit from a daily internet password allowing kids access only after other activities have been completed.
Whatever it looks like, one thing is for sure. There is going to be much intentionality when it comes to anything that has a screen in my house.
What do you think?