Are My Kids Addicted To Technology?

At what point do we need to start worrying about how much time our kids spend on technology?

When I was my son’s age—he’s seven—I’m pretty sure I asked my parents for a “walkie talkie” set at every possible opportunity. Easter, birthdays, Christmas, I’m pretty sure it drove them nuts.

I never got one. When I came home from school at 4:15 I got a glass of milk and some Dare cookies and twenty minutes of The Flintstones on TV than it was time to go outside until the call for dinner. This was pretty much the norm unless it was a blizzard or torrential downpour.

Fast forward 40+ years.

On Saturday mornings my son is often awake before us, and can be found watching TVO kids or Netflix while snuggling on the couch with the dog. When I arrive on the scene the first request is usually for breakfast, the second inevitably is “Can I play on the iPad?” When I roll my eyes, the promises start about only wanting it for a short time and “it will be different this time”. The comment harkens back to a previous battle and withdrawal of privileges.

This only happens on Saturday morning because we have banned his use of the iPad on school days. My 2-year-old doesn’t ask yet. But if the iPad is left on the coffee table she is drawn to it like a magnet and has no problem turning it on and doing some navigating. She knows how to hit the icons on my phone and how to flip from side to side to look at pictures. She knew this before she turned two and I don’t remember teaching her!

The scary thing is that it seems like a perfectly natural evolution for this generation. The draw to technology and the ease of use is quite incredible to witness in these youngsters. While I struggle with the setup of the new Nintendo, my 7-year-old impatiently takes over and navigates through it effortlessly. But what does all this technology exposure mean? And what are the short and long term effects?

The dictionary defines addiction as “an unusually great interest in something or a need.” This sounds pretty familiar to me.

To date my youngsters have not stolen any cars to feed their technology addiction. We have yet to hold an intervention. But there is a definite link to bad attitude and poor behaviour when excessive use of electronics is permitted. I have lived through some major meltdowns when the technology of the moment or the hour was turned off or taken away. I have also been subjected to the begging and pleading to have iPad privileges restored.

 One “treatment” for addiction is abstinence. But unless we revisit the Mennonite option, that is just not going to happen. How do we tell our kids that they can’t have electronics at home when they already have “computer labs” in senior kindergarten? Grade two homework assignments now include research online. And there are online “teaching” games endorsed by the schools for use at home. Whether we like it or not our kids will get their hands on technology on a daily basis.

To be fair, I shouldn’t be picking on the iPad alone, similar symptoms occur with the Nintendo WiiU, my BlackBerry, and a laptop. In fact even television has some challenges. I also don’t mean to blame all our parenting challenges on technology—the term “the terrible 2’s” was around long before Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and the folks at Nintendo started selling their wares. If 7-year-olds were such a breeze to raise, there wouldn’t be aisle after aisle of parenting advice books at Chapters or the local library.

But perhaps this technology is changing how we parent, or how we should be parenting? Over the past 100 years we have learned that literacy changes how we develop, as does television. I suspect the latest technology is doing its fair share as well. I hear my university professors loud and clear now, the medium is the message!

So what is the message of Mine Craft, Angry Birds or half the stuff on YouTube? I don’t know the answer but do feel the power of the generation gap. There is a constant challenge to stay “in the game’ when it comes to what technology is popular on the playground. My 7-year-old rolls his eyes when he is asked to explain why he wants Mine Craft and what the game actually accomplishes? And when I take a picture he deems to be unflattering he requests it not be posted on Instagram.

And then there is the issue that no parent wants to address—we are just as addicted to technology. In our home it’s hard to find an electrical outlet that doesn’t have a splitter on it to accommodate all the mobile devices. We have two iPads, a Blackberry, an iPhone, a Nintendo DS and an iPod—and we’re only a family of four. And this doesn’t count our drawer full of older devices that have been retired.

 Our summer vacation last year was to an area with spotty internet service and no TV stations and frankly we all had some withdrawal symptoms. Thankfully in summer we have the great outdoors that invites us to play. But the end of March is not nearly as inviting to be outside.

Maybe I am making much out of nothing. But I don’t remember seeing my kids have a major melt down when a book is taken away. I also don’t remember my son being so engrossed by a book that I have to tap him on the shoulder to bring him back to reality. I find few things more frustrating than talking to the kids when they are totally tuned out.

 At this point our attempt is to achieve that magical balance of “some” technology interspersed with other activities. As parents we do need to take responsibility for setting the parameters and for allowing the technology into our lives in the first place. I hate admitting that as a parent, but technology is just so convenient. Perhaps it’s too convenient.

I admit to the relief of having the DVD player in the van for the long road trips. I admit to handing my son my Blackberry when I’m tired or stuck in traffic. Yes, with a 2-year-old roaming around the house, it helps to get dinner ready by switching on Netflix and Paw Patrol, but is it worth it when it turns into a battle when it comes time to turn it off? And where is this heading in the years ahead?  

Some days I yearn for the time when we only had three TV channels, and a video game was Pong.

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