Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Plugged In

"Kids these days!" Am I right?

Seems you can't look 10 feet without seeing a wire sticking out of a teenager, be it from his iPod, laptop, or keyboard. But technology is reaching younger and younger children at an alarming rate. Sure, my kid was allowed to listen to music we approved, and watch movies and Sesame Street starting at a pretty young age, and we even used the cartoon sleuth Sly Fox to help him gain math skills on the computer as a sneaky way of getting him to learn through play, but how much is too much?

Have you seen this video of the one-year-old who can't operate a magazine? The parents of the girl posted the video and, presumably, they think it's cute or is social commentary. I agree that it's social commentary, but think it's plain sad. This is a child who must not be read bedtime stories, or books on a regular basis, but will be online shopping like Suri Cruise in elementary school.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of technology; a huge fan! I grew up in an age where we learned the Dewey Decimal System in school and researched in books and periodicals for papers in high school. I'm thankful that I had the internet in graduate school and no longer had to go to the library. I have a kid who, in high school, asked me why we didn't just use the internet to do our research and had to explain that we did not yet have access to the internet. I also have several email accounts that I check on my smartphone, love my iPod, and spent far more time than I'd like to admit on Facebook. I appreciate technology and all it does for us and was born at just the right time to do so.

But I'm also a fan of play, of learning, of organic experiences. I think toddlers should be banging on pans to learn about rhythm and cause-and-effect. I think looking at clouds and determining what they look like shapes our brain development and ability to think creatively. I think we need blocks to learn spatial skills and an abacus to learn faster number grouping. I think both genders need to be exposed to dolls and trucks because people and transportation are part of our everyday lives and playing is a microcosm of living. Certainly, as a therapist, I know that you can learn much about how a child interprets his world through watching him play. What do you learn about a child using technology? Some years ago, you'd say she was smart for figuring it out, but it's all so interactive now, that it doesn't say a thing about the kid. What does it say about the parent? There's the rub.

Yes, finger paint is messy, but if you don't make a mess, you don't learn how to properly wash your hands. You also don't learn about mixing colors, how paint feels, what "wet" means, about your fingerprints, about how to care for your art while it dries, or a number of other subtle life lessons. So put down the virtual paint program on the iPad and allow your kid real life skills. After all, we don't see virtual masterpieces in galleries; and, although someday we might, isn't that just a little bit sad?