Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The iPad...

Lately, I have been worrying about exposing my kids to too much technology.  If you haven't gathered from reading my views on everything on this blog, I am generally relaxed about some things that other parents stress over (my main things that I don't worry about include TV, processed foods like hot dogs and chicken nuggets, breaking the routine on occasion and germs).  Everyone has there reasons for what they worry about and to each family their own.  But here is something that I am really starting to notice among other kids, and Ben, and I think it might be my "thing".  That thing is technology.  By technology I mean ipads and phones and their non-apple counterparts. 

This weekend, we attended the wedding of a former roommate of Justin's (more about that later) which was a Friday night mass.  That left Saturday open because I had a baby shower to attend on Sunday.  It is class B basketball tournament time.  Specifically, it was boys' districts at Mayville State University, which is an experience and location that has been present in my life since elementary school. My hometown team was playing, as was the child of one of Justin's cousins for a different team.  They didn't play each other, but they played the same night.  It was a fun affair.  My parents were there, as were Justin's and we thought Ben would enjoy it because he likes basketball. 

Well, he enjoyed it for about three minutes and then he wanted to get loose and roam around the "field house", which is a building as familiar to me as my own high school after the many basketball tournaments I attended as a fan and player and pep band member and camps and summer leagues I went to.  I know the weird stuff, like how to get to the old 1920s era gym and dungeon like locker rooms where they would place the lowest seeded teams and where in the hall of trophy cases one could find a funny old picture of their sixth grade teacher from his college star days to make fun of (hehe sorry Mr. S!)  It all came back to me as I took turns with everyone else entertaining Ben throughout the evening. 

What I noticed was that the atmosphere has changed a lot since I was a teenager.  And I think most of the change can be linked to the fact that everyone has some sort of smartphone with them all the time. 

These are the differences I noticed, and they are all things I actually observed at the tournament. 

Pre-smartphone days and back as far as high school games existed:

-Babies and toddlers:  They spent the game being passed around and held and fussed over.  Toddlers would be entertained as long as possible before being taken out to the hallway to run around with other toddlers while annoyed parents or grandparents or older sibling stood around and talked.  Often, some interested elementary school aged girls who liked little kids and babies would take over and entertain them for awhile and make a game of it.

-Elementary school kids:  Would act "big" by sitting with friends instead of parents, and if they got bored (I was often one of those kids) would end up roaming around the hallways and concession room in packs until a school authority figure came along and reminded them that they were there to watch a game, not to play in the hall and if they didn't settle down they would have to sit with their parents.  Then they would go ask our parents for $.50 to buy something to eat so they could hang out in the concession room without getting flack about loitering.  If the team had cheerleaders (usually only in boys basketball) the young girls would sit as close to them as possible and yell the chants with them and copy everything they did. 

-Middle school/high school students:  If it was an exciting game, would get really into it and yell and chant and try to distract the other team.  If there were no cheerleaders, some loud class clown type would instigate some cheering.  If it got really heated there would be bleacher stomping and even off color and unsportsmanlike chants which would lead to the principal or superintendent lumbering over and reminding everyone that it was a school function and if they didn't knock it off and shape up they would have to leave.  If the game was boring people would sit around and gossip and flirt and look at the program to see if any of the players on the opposing teams were attractive. 

What I saw on Saturday night: 

Babies/toddlers:  Still got passed around and fussed over but it was not unusual for a toddler to be distracted by a phone. 

Elementary school kids:  I noticed a lot of kids roaming the hallways and sitting in the concession room together but not together as they all stared at their phones.  They walked around with phones in their hands and usually were staring at them as they walked.  I saw a group of four older elementary girls, perhaps in fifth grade, sitting in the corner next the bleachers, leaning against the wall, absorbed in their phones.  I didn't notice any cheerleader groupies. 

Middle/high school students:  There was some school spirit shown but I know it was not as loud as I remember and there was not much cheering and chanting even with cheerleaders present.  I didn't see all of the student sections (there were fans from six teams present) but what I could see was a lot of people not really watching the games and missing the action in favor of whatever was on the phone screen.  The games were close and exciting and it really was a much more subdued environment than it would have been for close games in a tournament.  I truly believe it has changed because everyone has their mind somewhere else.  A lot of the noise came from the adults and not students. 

I was feeling kind of disappointed by what I was saw when, yesterday, Ben decided to get obsessed with our ipad.  I stupidly added a Thomas app with puzzles and a memory game.  He figured out how to assemble the puzzles (six pieces!  Genius!) and that is all he wanted to do.  I took the ipad away and tried to read him a book and he didn't want to read the book.  I decided I was going to hide it from him as soon as his attention was elsewhere.  Meanwhile, Justin came home and started playing the game they play when he gets home.  Ben hears the garage door and starts saying "Dada!" and then runs to the stairs as Justin creeps up on him to pretend to scare him.  Ben pretends he doesn't see him but is giggling the whole time.  This time, instead of running to the stairs he just stared at the ipad!  That was the end of that.  This morning I made sure it was out of sight before he woke up and he hasn't seen it all day. 

I started researching the subject of toddlers and ipads and I didn't like what I read.  There are lots of discussions and articles out there about this subject.  The consistent findings:

-Toddlers do indeed become very obsessed with screens and there is not much research about the long term implications because ipads and other tablets have only been around for a few years. 

-Many families are struggling with this issue and spend a lot of time fighting with their kids over these devices.  It is very common for toddlers to have complete meltdowns when the ipad is taken from them and many parents say that the tantrums are a whole other level of anger, aggression and the kids almost seem desperate and will ask and beg to have it back for days (hmmm...sounds a lot like an episode of Intervention).  One dad wrote in an article that he found his three year old in his room one morning with the ipad that he had quietly removed from its charger next to the parents' bed.  The battery was half drained which meant that he had been playing games for about two hours.  He was lethargic at preschool that day and the teacher expressed her concern.  Many parents, people who considered themselves good parents and good at discipline, admitted that they gave up because it was almost impossible to keep their kids away from technology and they honestly could not stand the fit throwing and whinng. 

-The standard way to get a toddler to stop doing something they shouldn't be or to calm a tantrum is to distract them with something appropriate and redirect their attention.  However, this doesn't work with ipads and phones because they are absolutely the most enticing item a child can have and nothing is more fun than a magical screen.  It supposedly appears in brain scans the way other addictions, like shopping or gambling, do. 

-Many parents defend giving toddlers ipads by saying that there are good educational apps to use and claim that their child is smarter and ahead of other kids because an app taught them colors, the alphabet, etc.  Teachers, however, say otherwise and report that young kids are getting more aggressive, difficult, and have horrible attention spans.  They also want instant gratification and have no patience and can't entertain themselves.

-Along those same lines, almost every parent who exposes their kid to an ipad (pretty much everyone in the developed world including us) says that they are amazed at how smart and talented their kid is because of the way they can learn to use it almost instantly and can use it better than their grandparents.  This is an example of "if everyone is special, no one is".  Really, a two year old using an ipad is not a display of being advanced or a genius.  High functioning primates can use them too. 

-Parents defend giving devices to toddlers because "they have to be ready for a tech filled world". 

-There was one study reported where researchers watched kids playing with ipads behind a mirror and then took them away and had them play with other toys.  When the ipads were removed, some kids started playing "ipad" with other objects.  YIKES. 


I am no sanctimommy but I do not like any of this.  This is way bigger than a few episodes of Sesame Street or some McDonalds chicken nuggets.  The thought of my kids being zoned out on a phone or ipad as they miss out on the experiences of childhood that I remember, like cheering with the cheerleaders or gossiping over a slice of pizza in the concession room, really gets to me.  I have to stop it before it starts.  Also, when it comes to internet commentators, I am going to believe the teachers and not the parents when they say what they see from kids because parents only want to see the good.  Other people can do what they want, but I am going to try to make sure Ben learns shapes from this thing:

And not from an app.  And yes, we might have a shape app on our ipad.  That is not the one he gravitates to!  I do not believe for a minute that a kid that gets to spend hours on an ipad with educational apps will have an advantage over kids who learn shapes and colors from books and toys and blocks.  And as far a the "preparing kids for a technological world", I don't think swiping an ipad is going to give anyone an advantage when they start Kindergarten and on through their school and work life.  As evidenced by 18 month olds learning to use them, it is not that hard and anyone, can use them. 

I think we have been doing OK so far.  We travel a lot, making regular three an four hour drives on weekends and we have never given him a screen to make the trip easier.  He gets some exposure via watching us use it and watching videos of things he is interested in (such as tractors) but it hasn't really seemed problematic until yesterday. 

So, wish me luck!  Its been one half of a day!  And he's awake, so my beloved computer and ipad have to get stashed now!  Sigh...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

RM, does this mean I should be happy to be the last remaining person without an iPad? My parents even have one! The kids do have an iPod (my old one, which is currently lost) but I can't download anymore apps because I can't update the iOS, so basically they use it for watching 2 episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. My kids are stuck playing with Legos and watching PBS. I hope they turn out OK! :)