Do kids & gadgets mix?
“Yes, I’m one of those who still use pen and paper #oldshool”
“I don’t know how you can read books on a computer!”
“Kids these days are so attached to their phones. We used to play outside.”
“Less screen time for kids!!”
“It’s digital heroin!" "Screens turn kids into psychotic junkies” because “she found him sitting up in his bed staring wide-eyed, his bloodshot eyes looking into the distance as his glowing iPad lay next to him. He seemed to be in a trance.”
This is how my Facebook and Twitter feeds look like. And while okay, I’m an opinionated lady myself, I have to say, “Gadgets are evil and must be stopped at any cost and also my analog ways are better you digital plebeian,” isn’t one of them.
GROWING UP DIGITAL IN THE LATE '90S
I’m a little biased. I grew up with electronics, and I don’t naman see myself as the devil’s incarnate. At least, not yet. I grew up as the internet was growing up, having heart-to-hearts with my best friend as we waited half an hour for the Neopets page to load on dial-up, only to have it cut short because somebody used the phone.
And while I’m old enough to say that I couldn’t always google something, technology has always been a take-it-for-granted part of my life. Even if I wasn’t Wikipedia-ing answers, there was still Encyclopædia Britannica on CD. I had games like Kid Pix and Putt Putt Saves the Zoo and Make Random Scribbles on MS Paint then Paint Bucket all the Empty Spaces in Between.
It was as much a part of life as having a… bedside table or something. It wasn’t something I thought about. It was something that was just there.
Among my siblings, I got my phone the youngest. Okay, I take back what I said a bit: I definitely thought about this. I had been hinting for one of my parents' old phones as a hand-me-down for the longest time, and they went one better! I was 9 when they handed me the box, and eep! I was super excited for my brand spankin’ new Nokia 3210, even though my mom was the only person who texted me then. (Sixteen years later, this is still true.)
But she pulled it away, right before giving it to me. She wanted to make sure I remembered her gift-parting words:
“Use this responsibly, ha!”
DO KIDS AND CELLPHONES MIX? LET ME ASK A SCIENTIST...
Which brings me back to the present.
My officemate tapped me on the shoulder as we were waiting for a meeting to start. She told me she gave her little girl (who’s also five years old — only a few days younger than K!) a cellphone. She’s really been enjoying it to play, she said, but exams are coming up.
“How do I limit her use? How do I take the phone away?”
Here’s an answer which is totally not mine, but I totally echo.
In an episode of Fox News, host Bill O’Reilly talks about how texting is an “addiction” and it’s “going crazy” among the children. “They’re compelled to do it, they have to do it. They have the machine in their hand all the time!”
Dr. Carl Hart was the guest on the show. He’s a super cool neuropsychopharmacologist who does drug policy work, and his message is basically, “HEYYYY, base your shit on science! Here have a research paper that I made myself!” 
He said he’s… not quite aware that texting is an addiction, even if kids are “compelled” to do it all the time. As he pointed out to Pareng Bill:
Dr. Hart: Well, you’re compelled to do this show every day.
Bill: I get paid to do this.
Dr. Hart: Exactly. So there’s a reason for you to do it. And it doesn’t disrupt what you’re doing.
So decide whether something is unhealthy by seeing how it affects that person’s life. Does it take away from school? Are grades slipping? Is it affecting friendship? Is it damaging physically, mentally, or emotionally?
Like in this exchange:
Dr. Hart: Well the thing is, I have a kid who's in an Ivy League institution. He's a teenager. My main sort of concern is how well he does in school. He texts quite a bit. But he also gets all As when he's in school.
Bill: Yeah, but I don't know if that's.. Eh.. You want the whole child to develop, not just --
Dr. Hart: PRECISELY. You just said it. That's precisely it!
No looking at the behavior in isolation; check yo’ arbitrariness.
That is, texting isn’t bad just because it’s texting. iPads aren’t bad just because they’re iPads.
TL;DR: if your kid is doing well — what’s the issue again?
Context is important, and so that’s what I told my officemate. That’s also what I tell my kid, and that’s also what I believe:
Gadgets are fine as long they’re used properly.
So when she asked me what to do with her daughter’s phone now that it’s exam time, I said that how I would personally approach it?
I’d prioritize exams, and do my best to make sure nothing gets in the way of her studying her material and finishing her homework. Whether that’s a phone, or TV, or having friends over! These are all neutral things, but! If the phone in question is distracting her from review, then that would be my cue to have a nice conversation and set some ground rules. But if it isn’t? If she’s still able to finish what needs to be done? Then I don’t see a problem.
“Ay,” she said. “You’re like my husband. He told me to chill, too.”
DIGITAL LESSONS + THE REAL WORLD
I have my phone on hand at all times in case of emergency, I work and blog and write on my computer, and take notes and doodle and read (and watch Jane the Virgin) on my iPad. How hypocritical would it be for me to tell my kid, nope, sorry, random rules in the sky say, but you’re not allowed your devices.
If my son asks, “But why? You’re using them too!”
I can’t very well just say, “Basta.”
Because if technology was part of my life growing up, all the more it is for him. He lives in a world where there has always been iThings. I don’t think he’s ever seen a non-smartphone. That we live in a digital world is not only, um, reality — it’s also how we manoeuvre through the world.
While I am a subscriber to the I-can’t-remember-where-I-read-it quote,
“It’s only a superpower if you can use it for evil”
I believe that, in general? Technological advancements are on the cool side. I’m able to communicate with you now, via this blog entry, because some person said, “Hey, this scary-ass room-sized machine that takes fifty people to run? I wanna put it on my lap.”
Hasn’t it been this way since the beginning of forever? Oh no, newspapers made people not want to talk to each other on the train. Oh no, radio. Oh no, cinemas. Oh no, TV. Oh no, this newfangled thing is expanding my oldfangled comfort zone and I’m resistant to change! Adaptation is for sheep too weak to stick to conventions! Old better, new bad!
It had given me so much peace when I finally realized that what some people declare to be quality is really just a declaration of preference. While someone may prefer pen and paper, that preference doesn’t make the GoodNotes app The Worst By Default.
It was such a relief to get that out of my mental way, that I can focus on, oh right, so what do we do about tech at home?
What was it again? Ah: not looking at the behavior in isolation. (Thanks, Dr. H.)
Because I’m gonna face it: there’s no extricating digital. There’s no “offline world” and “online world” anymore. Manners are simply manners, decency is simply decency. Being respectful and responsible are basic lessons; apply liberally.
So I tell my kid, for example, no iPads at the dinner table.
And when it’s time to sleep, “last video!” means last video.
And homework time means putting YouTube on pause.
If he watched something I didn’t like? Then we start a conversation about it like, hey, wasn't Peppa Pig kinda mean to her dad? What do you think?
And when he gets older? Then we just evolve the conversations. These aren’t his concerns yet, but I’m sure we’ll eventually get to: What happens when games have chat rooms? What information do we not share online? Do we or do we not feed the trolls?
I’ve come to realize that I can’t curate the entire world. All that is is an artificial bubble. And all an artificial bubble is is a disservice.
But I can teach him to think critically! And not take too much stock in fearmongering articles and condescension.
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