Technology. It’s a double edged sword. There are ways we can use it that can distract us and create distance, and there are ways we can use it that can bring us closer together, enrich our lives, and support us in connecting, and building our relationships with one another. I think it depends in large part on how and when we choose to use it, particularly when it comes to young children.
I personally see no benefit in handing iphones or ipads to young children for the purpose of entertainment, distraction, skill building, or story telling. There’s nothing quite like holding a small child in your lap and sharing a book together- the fancy, animated ipad app adds nothing to the experience, in my opinion.
So often these days, when in public places, parents are tempted to hand babies and toddlers iphones to pacify and entertain them. It works. But is it really a good idea? Can You Be A Good Parent Without Technology?, questions this increasingly common practice. The author shares an observation she made during a recent train commute: “On this particular morning, a mom with a stroller and a toddler sat down next to me. The little boy was fine while he was standing and walking, but as soon as the train started moving, and mom scooped him up in her arms, he started wailing. Loudly.”
The mom responded not by handing her child a cellphone, but by holding him, and singing.
“And then, after what seemed like forever, but in reality was just a few moments, the boy looked up at his mom’s face and started singing with her. And as they sang, the rest of the us smiled. It was quite an amazing moment.
It made me wonder; are we too quick to hand a tech toy or an iPhone to our children in those situations because we’re worried about disturbing others? Is it because we don’t want to struggle with a screaming toddler? Perhaps we just don’t want to sing in front of a crowded train full of strangers.”
Today, I read How To Miss A Childhood, which highlights the many ways in which adults sometimes unwittingly fall into the trap of using technology in a fashion that creates disconnection and distance, and leaves both parents and children feeling lonely. The author puts forth a “recipe” she says is guaranteed to result in:
• Missed opportunities for human connection
• Fewer chances to create beautiful memories
• Lack of connection to the people most precious to you
• Inability to really know your children and them unable to know you
• Overwhelming regret
Happily, the author also includes a recipe for “How To Grasp a Childhood”, which requires only one thing: “You must put down your phone. Whether it is for ten minutes, two hours, or an entire Saturday, beautiful human connection, memory making, and parent-child bonding can occur every single time you let go of distraction to grasp what really matters.”
Magda Gerber encouraged parents to give babies 100 percent attention during caregiving routines like feeding, changing, bathing, and putting them to bed. She also encouraged regular doses of “wants nothing” quality time, which is predictable, regular time when the adult is available to the child without an agenda. She advised,” Turn off the phone and the TV, talk to your baby and explain what you’re going to do. Be fully present.” Not always easy advice to follow, even before smart phones and ipads were ubiquitous, but maybe more important now than ever before.
The challenge I think, is to remain conscious and intentional in our use of technological devices and screens. Certainly, there can be benefits to all of the ever expanding ways we have to “connect” through ever advancing technology and the use of social media. When and how can technology be used to enhance our connection to children and our understanding of each other? Let me share a few recent experiences that illustrate:
When family and friends are far away: On Sunday, I was able to Skype with S. (age 7), J. (age 3 and 3/4 ), and family for an hour. The whole family was present. M. was making chicken soup, V. was talking with me, sharing the news of the week, and S. and J. were playing. Both children spent some time talking with me, but mostly they played, and sometimes narrated their own play, while I watched and exclaimed. Both children were relaxed and completely unselfconscious.
S. was working on an art project, and J. was building an intricate block construction using gear blocks. He was focused on his project, but aware of my presence. “Look, Lisa, do you see how it moves when I turn this handle?” After a little while, he decided he wanted to do an art project too, and I watched as he carefully colored a fairy all in blue. V. and the children took me on a tour of their front yard, while the children talked excitedly about their preparations for Halloween. “Show Lisa the skeleton, Mommy!” “Lisa, look at the spider webs we got. We’re going to put them up after dinner.” We tried to reach out and touch each other, and give hugs, which resulted in giggles. Was it ideal? No, but it was a window into their world I would not have otherwise had, since I’m over 3,000 miles away. I was able to see their beautiful faces , hear their sweet voices, and witness a small part of their day in real time. They had my full and complete attention. They later told their mom, “It was almost like having a play date with Lisa.”
When a short video demonstration speaks a thousand words and helps you to learn or reinforces your parenting skills: RIE parent/infant classes aren’t readily available to everyone, everywhere, and it can be difficult to grasp the concepts through reading alone, which is why I especially appreciated this recent post from Janet Lansbury, with accompanying video clip: Would You Pick Up This Crying Baby?. It was also a comfort to listen to an audio recording of Magda Gerber’s 1979 Keynote Speech at the RIE Conference outlining the basics of the RIE philosophy. Just a few short years ago, these resources were not widely available or accessible, but they are today, thanks to recent advances in technology and the use of social media.
When a blog post brings people together and facilitates the creation of community in “real life”: I find myself in a strange unwelcoming land. My beliefs and actions are as foreign to the people around me as theirs are to me. It is a lonely place to be. So, I write to try to understand myself and them. I share what I write in the hopes that it will be helpful to someone else. This week, one of the women who reads my blog, and is a part of a small RIE inspired playgroup here in South Florida, reached out and invited me to join the group, which is how I found myself braving the wind and the rain to drive thirty minutes south to meet H., who is a RIE Foundations graduate, and facilitator of the group, and M., and L., and their babies who are participants in the group. We shared our stories, and observed and appreciated the babies ( who are the same age as baby R.), as they enjoyed free movement while lying on their backs on a blanket. What an absolute joy to find myself in a peaceful environment, with women who speak the same language as I do, and who are committed to learning about, caring for, and treating babies with respect. It was heaven on earth. I left feeling less alone and more hopeful than I had in days. Would this connection have been made had I not been sharing my journey in this form, and had M. not read and commented, and shared with H., who then reached out to me via phone and e-mail? I don’t think so.
When a parent can’t be present but wants to be: My brother’s new job doesn’t allow him to take time off to visit with baby R. for the one hour a week we get to see her. This week, he called while we were visiting with R., and R.’s mom held the phone to R.’s ear and her dad talked to her for a few minutes. I watched as R. became still, and seemed to listen. She then began to smile and coo in response. Then, something amazing happened. R. laughed out loud for the first time (that I observed). She seemed to recognize (or at least enjoy hearing) her dad’s voice. We also used my phone to snap some photos to share with her dad. Ideal? No, but it’s all we’ve got right now, and it beats the alternative, which is nothing.
When a computer helps a child who has been unable to communicate her thoughts to “find her voice”: See Carly’s Voice , about a nonverbal autistic child who had a breakthrough in communication through the use of a computer. “But one day during a therapy session, Carly reached for the computer. Slowly, using one finger, she typed help teeth hurt. Her therapists were astonished. It took months and much coaxing to get her to use the computer again (at that time, an augmentative communication device). But she began to recognize that communication was essential. Technology made it possible.”
I could go on, and give other examples, but I’d really like it if you would share your thoughts and experiences with me. In which ways do you think technology hinders or takes away from your relationship with your children? Are there ways you feel it enhances your relationships or creates connection and support for you as a parent? How do you find the balance?