Technology and Kids: Part Two – You Need to Think About This Now

December 30th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting 13 comments

“No one walks down the aisle with a pacifier in his mouth.” “College admission offices aren’t going to ask how old she was when she was toilet trained.”

The above (one hopes) true statements are relayed to young parents as a way of saying, “Relax.” As such, they are valuable bits of advice from those whose children are older and who recognize that things that mattered greatly at one point became completely irrelevant down the line.

Not everything falls into this category, of course. Sometimes, things that happen in one’s early years have grave repercussions down the road. A mother who drank heavily or took drugs while pregnant may damage her child in a way that no later intervention will be able to correct. A baby deprived of sensory contact, affection and security might need to struggle mightily in future decades in order to live a happy life. These examples are extreme, but good people recoil at the not-so-uncommon scenario of a child given sugar as a major food group or one who is plopped in front of a screen for hours a day.

And then there are the things that we don’t realize are problems until they are. Over a number of decades, many parents made huge sacrifices to send their children to college only to find that the education those students received taught them to despise everything their parents treasured. At least today, the agenda of most colleges is blatant, giving every parent the option of being a knowledgeable consumer.

In the 1980s, computer games for children like Reader Rabbit and Carmen Sandiego debuted, along with games that worked on math and other educational skills. Children spent time playing these games, but they were an adjunct to the rest of their lives. Forty years later, the screen, with activities light-years removed from those innocent first offerings,  has become the pivot around which many children’s lives revolve.

I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone, nor do I have the answer as to when and in what quantity children should be exposed to technology. However, I do know that enough information is available to suggest that every caring parent needs to form a conscious and deliberate answer to those questions. One trend that should give everyone pause is how many tech leaders and creators of apps and social media don’t allow their children to access their own creations.

A story is told of a newborn’s parents asking their rabbi when they should begin formulating the views on parenting. He responded that they were already nine months late. Today, by the time a child is seven or nine or thirteen, technology’s grip on them has often been established, frequently aided and abetted by schools. That is late in the game to begin to formulate an approach. Here is one article, with links to others, to help you begin today. (And, yes, I am aware of the irony that using technology is the easiest way to start researching this problem.)

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13 comments

Deborah Leyde says:

Thank you for writing this, Susan! This topic has fascinated me since my college days when I wrote a paper about the effects of television on developing minds. The technology aspect seems like an extension of the same (times ten). The ease of using these tools as a babysitter is so tempting (a few minutes of peace, please). No condemnation here, because I struggled with it, too. Dr. Jane Healy wrote a book in 1999 called “Endangered Minds” which became a favorite (albeit admonishing) book on the topic for me.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Hi Deborah-
I’m sure Susan will also respond but I just wanted to take the opportunity of hoping that you and Dale had a joyful and uplifting Christmas and you’re all lined up for a wonderful 2019. We look back at shared times with great fondness.
Cordially
RDL

Deborah Leyde says:

Oh thank you, Rabbi Lapin!!! We wish you a blessed and prosperous New Year, filled with joy and family. (You will always be our Rabbi. =))

Fondly, Dale and Debbie

Susan Lapin says:

Hi Deb, I second my husband’s wishes for your family. I love seeing the pictures when I catch them. I had the same progression with our deciding not to have a TV based on, among other things, reading about the physical effects on our bodies, and feel that was such a simple decision compared to the ones our children face today. It was easy to keep a TV out of the house, but now the technology is everywhere and all the time. Thanks for the book recommendation. I know people appreciate suggestions.

David Beal says:

The comment from “Dale and Debbie Leyde” caught my attention, because I was just thinking about them recently with regard to home schooling our children. I know Dale from a long time ago, and knew Debbie just a little, and have always had the highest regard for them. I believe they home schooled their children. My wife and I home school our two children. She works so hard at it and has been doing great, but lately has needed a little encouragement. I was thinking recently Debbie may have some perspectives she could share if she felt so inclined. I’ve lost touch with them and have no way to contact. Suggestions?

Susan Lapin says:

David, I hope Deb sees this and responds but I can forward your info to her.

David Beal says:

Yes, thank you Susan. And thank you both for ALL you do!

LJ says:

Dear Susan, I think this electronic game discussion is a worthy one. My husband and others in our family are Veterans of Foreign Wars. We knew you and Rabbi Daniel Lapin in Washington State when my husband worked first in his own software business and then he worked for Microsoft in their ‘Casual Games’ department; and he’d previously used some video games in training his Marines as he was a USMC Officer, serving as Tank Platoon Commander in the First Gulf War. He was in Somalia, Africa during “Operation Restore Hope,” which was a civil war problem rather than a hunger problem. Afterward, working in the online games industry as a business manager was a thrilling shift from a combat role for him!

Our own son (age 21) began reading at age three and a half, and by the age of four and a half he “needed to know” what words like “catapult” meant so that he could win the computer game, “Age of Empires.” I’d once asked him what he needed to do to “win” and he replied, “to beat the enemy.” He and his dad continue to enjoy playing games together. However, due to the awesomeness of home education and moral instruction, we helped our son and middle daughter to grow into well rounded individuals.

He has recently launched his first free-to-play, retro-style (throwback or “Old School”) strategy, computer game on the platform at Steam dot com. “Sanguo: War Under Heaven” is about the Three Kingdoms Period of Ancient China. It’s been a labor of love for him, but it is also an example of hard work and due diligence; he once applied for a patent (at age 16) and had he used the services of an attorney, it’s highly likely that he might have a patent for a violin device. He didn’t want to pursue it.

His computer game has music that he and his fifteen months older sister arranged together; most of the music was created from their own compositions but a little of it is from music that our son found in some old hymns. The siblings once started a YouTube account with a bunch of compositions they created as fan music for the game “The Elder Scrolls Online.” Some people asked if they could buy the music but our youths never made the songs for sale; they’d only made the music for “fun.”
Our son copyrighted the computer code that he created for his game with his sister’s help as she has a copyright for her first book. They’d also consulted an attorney a few years ago to learn about protecting their Intellectual Properties. The siblings are now considering making, at least, two more computer games and other “entertaining” materials. One of the games could be a shooter type of game with an interesting theme.

I recently learned about “Fortnite” from my son, daughter, and husband. It’s wildly popular; and so are ideas of Zombies! There is a lot of “blood and gore” in many electronic games. I don’t play electronic games. Our daughter’s game preferences are very different from the mens’ styles. Her preferences are typically “female.” This means that she likes to play games with good story ideas and customizable characters.

I do understand that virtual gaming can be of benefit to the mind but it can be of detriment to it when one is playing all day! Discussions about certain games are important to have with youths that will play them. Our son has encouraged other younger men to take an interest in computer coding as a career, and he taught coding to one young man for roughly six months.

Some of the problems with young men include barriers to logical thinking (poor math skills due to disinterest, and perhaps even medications that were given to them for “ADD.”) Another problem he noted was either laziness or fatigue from growing pains.

Our family has learned a great deal of the pain inflicted upon young men because their parents and teachers had mis-diagnosed them with Attention Deficit Disorder. We think “ADD” more often as “Acquired Discipline Deficiency.” We mean no offense by this suggestion, but we do think drugs that are given to young boys can cause a great deal of problems for them later in life, unfortunately.

We also think that parents and teachers do this, sometimes, because of their own lack of discipline to deal with their little boys’ natural development. Boys are quite different from little girls in every culture in this world. Training up a young man to become a responsible and considerate human being is a common conundrum for too many entrusted to care for young boys. It also takes time to train young men and ladies.

It is also the reason why I think that discussing electronic gaming is beneficial. Limiting game play, and using good electronic techniques like having good posture or taking eye breaks are things that we have incorporated into our own family’s time on electronic media of all types.

I should also mention that there was a time early in my marriage when I had to make a schedule for my husband to allow him to play. He played all night several times and didn’t schedule it with me in advance. It didn’t help that I was not a “gamer!” You can only imagine how this might be a problem for a marriage, and it troubled us. Maybe pre-marriage counseling should address this issue, too.

Our son is also interested in America’s history as it relates to race, and he’d like to compile pictures and stories with first person accounts dating back to the sixteen hundreds in a book format. We’re thankful that he can read, write, code, teach and drive. Our family has learned that we’re all “lifetime” learners, but one extra important task with young ones is reading aloud to them every day. We still read aloud together, thankfully. We have hope that our youths will pass this gift along to their families one day.

Susan Lapin says:

You made so many point, LJ, but I really appreciate the one about discussing gaming in pre-marriage counseling. There are gamers who never make it to marriage or even to friendship or relationships because they are addicted to the screen, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that increasing numbers of men have less time to devote to the relationships they do have because of gaming.

LJ says:

I need to make a correction because I am not a gamer, and I didnt’ know that I’d mistakenly identified the online game platform incorrectly as “Steam dot com.” This game platform is known as “Store dot Steam Powered dot Com.” I apologize for any confusion in my comments.

LJ says:

Susan, I know that one of the most popular games (my husband loves to play it; my son doesn’t play it too often now because he’s busy with coding and other “game” industry interests) is called “DOTA” aka “Defense of the Ancients.” My husband works all day as well, so the little time he has to learn to do something “fun” accounts for his longer-term interest in mastering skills to do it well. I bring this game up because it expresses your point very well about young men and their gaming taking away from relationships. There is a wildly popular Swedish song from six years ago on YouTube called “BASSHUNTER – DOTA.” It shows a mother asking her son what he’s doing so long at his computer, and then he and his friends have these girls waiting around for their boyfriends to take them to a club, but they have to finish playing their “DOTA” match first! It’s fairly funny, and we’ve listened to it many times before my own husband (who is not a boy; but when he games….) plays the game! I know that human beings need play time (not necessarly online gaming) for balance, but certainly not to the exclusion of all else. One good thing about many games today is that one can have many friends of theirs from other places involved. Our family knows folks from in-person interactions, but we all live far enough away from one another to hang out often. However, gaming allows for those who’ve moved to stay in contact frequently if they choose. Weighing the costs vs. benefits of all sorts of things that we take time to do, or to spend our earned income doing is critical for balancing the myriad of options open to us. Thank you for bringing up this critically important subject. I hope that y’all have a great week!

Edirin Ogboduma says:

I believe I made a mistake in this area by allowing my children too much technological access. Now my boys believe so much on what they see that it’s beginning to affect their grades.
Please I need intervention, Help

Susan Lapin says:

Edirin, you, the parent, are the intervention. Assuming your boys are young enough, that is.

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