It technically belongs to my husband, a birthday gift from last year, but for all intents and purposes it belongs to my kids. It’s a game system, a movie player, a mechanism of mass distraction on long family road trips. And although we have a rule in our house about such things (No screen time before school time!) sometimes it’s simply too hard for them to resist.
Like a lot of kids in her generation, my toddler, at 3, is already technologically savvy. She knows how to find her favorite You Tube videos and how to start her favorite apps. She knows how to call her grandparents in Ohio and my dad in San Francisco, and she loves Face-timing with her cousins in North Carolina.
But in a world that’s moving quickly toward real face time being obsolete, I want her to understand the value of personal interaction that doesn’t involve a screen.
When I was training to become a social worker, I spent a lot of time learning about body language and the power of the physical presence in communication. Crossing your arms, for example, sends the message that you’re not open to what the other person is saying, and fidgeting with your hair tells your client that he’s boring you. On the other hand, leaning toward a person slightly lets them know that you’re interested and that what they’re saying has value.
These are basic lessons— call it Body Language 101— but will my daughter’s generation understand its importance when they’re only seeing another person’s face on a screen?
Just like a person’s intent can be lost in translation via email, subtle clues can be missed when not communicating in real life: tone of voice, traces of an accent, if a person talks with her hands or is animated when upset. These things are part of the whole of a person’s communication, and I worry about what will be lost if they’re not valued by the next generation.
I’m teaching my children that all aspects of communication are important. Just as when I have something important to tell them I don’t scream it from another room, I expect them to respect others enough to communicate the “big” stuff face to face.
It’s tempting in this busy, stressful, and fast-paced world to replace human contact with communicating through screens. And though I certainly believe that emails, text messages and Skype and Facetime are wonderful conveniences, I don’t want them to serve as a substitute for the real thing.
Reaching out to a person who’s in distress.
Seeing love in another person’s eyes.
Understanding a person’s true nature by seeing the care with which he tells a story that has meaning in his life.
I want my kids to experience— and appreciate— the nuances of personal interaction. There’s so much that cannot be expressed through a screen.
The next time my toddler asks to play a game on the iPad, she’ll have to settle for a puzzle with mama instead. We’ll sit at the breakfast table and lay out all the pieces one by one. The afternoon sun will reflect in her eyes, and she’ll look at me in eager anticipation. That’s a look she’s never given a computer screen.
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Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.