Some days ago, I read an article about the effect of electronic tablets for kids, and how many parents use these gadgets as a way to control their kids’ behaviors and keep them quiet or busy when they have stuff to do or need extra time.
This is not a new problem; it just has a new tool. And it’s less related to technology than to the way we raise our kids and how willing are we to communicate with them and teach them to behave and handle their emotions.
I don’t bring the iPad with me to the restaurants or to family events, but I use it when my kids are home and I have work to do. I also use the TV, swings and books. The difference between one and the others is that being outside keeps them moving, creating and interacting, but being attached to the iPad or the TV limits their creativity and of course their social abilities. But the same thing would happen if your child was tossed into the backyard to “go play” without someone caring about what he did or what he needed. The real monster is lack of communication and interaction with our kids.
Don’t expect your child to be friendly or interactive if he has grown up watching TV or playing with an iPad by himself. But don’t expect it either if you have raised him to do educational activities—like reading, doing puzzles, etc.—without interacting with him. Kids of all abilities need adult interaction and guidance to figure out how to express themselves, how to calm down, and how to listen to their thoughts and reflect about who they are.
That’s the real meaning of “time out”—reflecting on their actions and learning the consequences. But the truth is that in many homes in the world, time out has been replaced with a tablet, because it is easier to calm them down by distracting them from their objective, and easier to keep them occupied than to face the stress of a tantrum or melt down.
I’m not saying I’m guilt-free. I have an iPad that my kids use, and I’ve fought the urge to buy a second one. It would be easier to have one for each child, as it would resolve one of their most common dramas—both wanting the iPad at the same time. But limiting them to one tablet is also teaching them how to share. I don’t believe depriving kids from technology is the answer either, but it’s definitely all about using as a reward or learning tool, not as a substitute for parental involvement.
There is not a gadget or activity (no matter how educational it is) that can ever replace our responsibilities as parents. Giving our kids attention and teaching them to behave and handle their emotions is something that no one or nothing else can do for us.
When we grow and interact in the real world with other adults, we can tell who has been raised with no boundaries or responsibilities. They are the worst people to work with, as they have no commitment, no social skills and no empathy for others. Yet we can’t blame the iPad because it didn’t exist 20 or 30 years ago. We could blame the TV or the wooden blocks, but at the end there’s only one answer: lack of family interaction. There’s simply no substitute for love and communication.