Are We Addicting our Kids to Technology?

My daughters love my iPhone.

Love it.

Which is why they rarely get to play on it. I can see the desire – the infatuation with it – etched in their expressions once they get their hands on it. It is not unlike the expression of addicts when they finally score their drug of choice.

I can also see the profound disappointment when I have to take it away followed by the pleas for “just one more minute!”

It is for this reason that my daughters do NOT have their own personal technology: no smart phones, no tablets, no computers. I know that I’m in the minority here, but I want my daughters experiencing the real world first. I want them using their imaginations and playing open-ended games. I want them to be bored – and to have to deal with it. I want them to develop relationship skills.

All those skills become much more difficult when you have technology.

I’m not only competing with the lure of technology but with other parents. Already my daughter’s peers (my children are 10, 8 and 5 years old) are loaded down with technology: Wii, Nintendo, PlayStation, iPhone, Droid, iPad, Kindle, Galaxy, MacBook and PC. The list is long and getting longer.

I don’t buy the arguments for giving children technology (mostly around having them fall behind – but anyone who has given an iPad to a three-year-old knows the learning curve is about one minute).

I’m concerned that children – who are still developing a worldview and still working out who they are and how the world around them works – are becoming addicted to technology.

I can see the effects already on their parents – my friends, family and colleagues. There are too many adults who can’t handle the responsibility of owning personal technology. Using technology as a crutch against loneliness, boredom, anxiety, and sadness. Look at how many adults can’t put down their technology (especially smart phones) when they know they should:

  • Having lunch or dinner with other people
  • At business meetings when they should be listening
  • While driving
  • While riding in an elevator
  • While walking down the street

That’s why I really enjoyed the comedian Louis C.K.’s recent rant against smart phones for children on Conan. I think he’s dead-on when he talks about how smart phones have become a shield against dealing with every day challenges: like boredom, melancholy and sadness. It’s become too easy to escape into games, texts, emails, and social media.

Children need to deal with reality first. Maybe you don’t have to go to my extremes of an outright ban, but shouldn’t parents be putting more energy into limiting technology rather than encouraging it?

The best compliment I’ve ever gotten on my daughters was a neighbor saying that he admired how imaginative and creative my children were when playing on their own.

“Your kids could play all day with a paper clip,” he said.

Too me that’s a skill worth developing.

What about you? How do you handle technology and children? Do you think kids have too much access to technology?


Big Think’s post on Smart Phones and Louis C.K.

We Are All Robots Now

Our Gigantic Impulse Control Disorder

4 Responses to “Are We Addicting our Kids to Technology?”

  1. It’s not just kids. It’s everybody! I went to a concert over the weekend and at least a half dozen people within a ten foot perimeter spent most of their time staring at their smartphone screens while shooting shitty video. Hundreds and hundreds of hours of videos of this band are available on YouTube. Instead of fully experiencing the wonder of a live music performance, these concert goers were viewing it on a tiny screen. Someone said recently that smartphones are the new smoking, that the type of person who would have smoked in public to occupy themselves twenty or thirty years ago is now busy fiddling with their phone. That sounds about right to me. The difference is that even back in the smoking era, it wasn’t cool for little kids to light up in public, but parents think nothing of giving their kids smartphones today, most likely to get them to shut up and get out of their way.

  2. Hi Tim:
    I like that analogy of smoking and smart phones. Wondering if in 20-30 years the smart phone users will end up loitering in front of office buildings to get their fix. I’ve always wanted to set-up baskets at the entrances to our conference rooms at work so that everyone going into the meeting has to put their phones in them. Meetings seem to go on forever these days because everyone is distracted by their phones – so you constantly need to repeat and review.

  3. You might be interested in Jim Steyer’s book “Talking Back to Facebook.” In addition to behavioral impact of technology on our kids, he covers some important aspects of kids & privacy.

  4. Thanks for the recommendation. On my way to Amazon (where privacy – of course – is a priority)!

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