H/T to Katie for inspiring this one with a FB share!
I was out of town last weekend for my sister’s wedding. Everyone is asking me for pictures, so here’s one:
Well, that’s not the actual wedding. It’s just us setting up the ceremony décor the day before. I should probably check with my various family members before plastering their up close and personal photos from the reception on the Internetz, so the real wedding pictures need to wait a bit.
My sister and her now-husband are in that stage where they are thinking more seriously about this child-raising thing, and making both inquiries and conjectures about their own ideas of what parenting involves. Here’s a quote that came out of one of those conversations over the weekend:
“She just gives her kid an iPad all the time, instead of actually parenting.”
I started explaining that this is a common occurrence with us too. As in, I am totally stressed and cannot handle any more whining or laundry or work calls to return or lack of something for dinner, HERE KID HAVE AN IPAD while I cry in the corner for a while, so yeah, give this mom a break.
“No, like all the time, I’m serious, like she just doesn’t want to be a parent.” And at this moment, I knew there was no way this person could understand how desperately we need a break at times. And how easy it is to judge someone’s parenting skills based on your perception of the frequency of her child’s iPad usage, not to mention your analysis of whether she values her role as a parent, and your ultimate conclusion that iPad = fuck this parenting thing. And, on the flipside, I realized that in a roundabout way, this statement also served to judge me as a good parent – without any sound evidence that I actually am one. I mean, you don’t see what I do with my kids all day, just like you don’t know for certain how often and in which situations this mother gives her child an electronic device. It was one of those “SMH” moments on the part of the person who made this statement, carrying with it an assumption that decent people like you and me would recoil in horror at the suggestion that we give our children one of those devil machines and let their brains just rot as a result thereof, because we dare claim a moment to ourselves. You know, to do housework. Or pee.
So I was going to write about all that (and hey, it looks like I already have after all), but then I got a related, but much different, idea:
Why do we vilify technology when we talk about parenting, or in the broader discourse about the world in which children are growing up today?
And to add another dimension to this conversation: Why do we glorify and exalt without question (or at the very least, without moderation) the conventional wisdom that kids should be playing outside whenever possible, or at least when the alternative is using technology?
Please don’t misunderstand this as an either/or argument. That’s the very kind of false dichotomy I’m trying to get away from here. I’m not saying you should forget about sending your kids outside to play altogether, in favor of watching Netflix, playing with apps on whatever mobile device they get their hands on, or immersing themselves in World of Warcraft. Because what parent doesn’t dream that their child will become the next Leeroy Jenkins?
Nevertheless . . . isn’t it a bit shortsighted for us to be operating under the assumption that TECHNOLOGY = ALWAYS BAD and NATURE = ALWAYS GOOD?
And seriously, when we quip without a second thought that kids today are spending too much time using technology, and not enough time playing outside, we are making a number of assumptions that I would like to challenge here:
• We are assuming that, without the technology, kids would spend more time outdoors;
• We are assuming that outdoor play is the gold standard for how kids should be spending their time, under any circumstance;
• We are assuming that it is not possible for kids to have regular access to technology while also appreciating nature, or other non-technology based settings and activities;
• We are assuming that there is no value to our kids’ online/electronic activity, or that whatever value it holds is outweighed by its harmful effects.
As a brief rebuttal of the above points, please consider that:
• Prior to the Internet age and the widespread use of mobile devices, there were still kids who did not want to spend a whole lot of time outdoors. I spent most of my time inside, reading books, for example. (And please don’t tell me that reading from a dead tree is a superior experience to that of reading on a Kindle or iPad, at least not where the benefit to the child, not to mention the environment, is concerned.)
• Ok, so I also spent a lot of time playing video games as a kid, admittedly. This was the dawning of a new gaming age heralded by awesomeness like Super Mario Bros. 3! Many a beautiful summer day was spent with my butt firmly planted in front of a screen for much of the day. But this was a phase. And even if it hadn’t been, I know others who have played video games well into adulthood, including my husband, who turned out to be fine individuals appreciative of many non-technology based interests, including all that Mother Nature has to offer. So we’re not hiking Everest any time soon. Who cares? We like sunshine and birds and such – we are not vampires.
• By vilifying technology, we are forgetting, or perhaps exercising willful ignorance, of all of the amazing benefits offered to use via this new world of apps, social media, multiple modes of communication, and wikis on just about any and every topic. If it’s too cloudy outside to use a telescope, or if we’re tucked into bed in our jammies and just want to chill, I can pull up an image of the night sky on my tablet and show my girls the stars, along with detailed information about their discovery and composition. When I was growing up, you had to pull out the encyclopedia for that, if you had a set, or go to the library, or wait for Cosmos to air (not to mention be sitting at home waiting for the show to come on, and later, programming your VCR to record the show, commercials and all).
• Wait, I’m not done with the last bullet point yet. Want to teach functional and social communication skills to children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder? There’s an app for that! I am so thankful for modern technology, and the inventions not yet realized, that are improving the lives of people with disabilities, allowing society as a whole to benefit!
• And yes, there is “junk food” technology too. I have never played Candy Crush Saga, but I don’t believe I am mistaken in presuming little educational benefit to this particular online activity. But there are also “junk food” options made available to kids during otherwise wholesome activities, including outdoor play. When my husband was a kid, he went out to play in the woods behind his friend’s backyard, where their partaking in Mother Nature’s bounty consisted of spraying Matchbox cars with hairspray, lighting them on fire, and sending them careening down a hill in a thickly wooded area. They got to witness a forest fire – what an experience! Even the firefighters showed up, and a good time was had by all, because nature. They went back to video games after that.
And this brings us full circle back to Mom giving her kid an iPad so he leaves her alone: When we blame technology for the “sad” or “scary” fact that kids today aren’t spending enough time outdoors, we are really blaming—and judging—parents. Maybe some parents truly do need to shape up and take the phone away once in a while. But for the most part, I believe we are all doing the best we can, taking each moment at a time, one day at a time, to balance our need for a break from our kids with our responsibility to ensure our kids live a healthy and full life brimming with a variety of experiences, both outdoors and in, offline and on. Go back a few hundred years or so, and you would have heard the racket about how kids need to spend less time with those mind-corrupting hoops and sticks, and more time feeding the chickens and making candles out of lard like I did when I was that age, harrumph!
Look, we like to blame the modern phenomenon of more and better technology for many of our societal ills, including the proverbial “kids these days.” But almost every invention in history has brought some new problems and setbacks along with major benefits and improvements. I am choosing to embrace the positive aspects of the highly technology-oriented world that we, including our children, now live in. I am also mindful of the less desirable traits of this increased access to and reliance upon our mobile devices and Internet-based communication. But I feel not a shred of sentimentality or sadness at the image of my child sitting on the couch, engrossed in a new app or texting a friend—even on a beautiful, sunny day.
Image Credits (where not otherwise specified):
And if you don’t understand Leeroy Jenkins and didn’t watch the video, go here.