This morning I stumbled across Megan Egbert’s 10 Reasons Why I Will Continue to Give my Children Handheld Devices courtesy of InfoJunkie. Egbert’s post is a response to a Huffington Post article by Cris Rowan which advocates a ban on the use of handheld devices by children under the age of twelve. And although I’ll concede that Rowan’s reasoning appears to be logically sound and well-researched, I can’t help but feel that she is taking a wildly reactionary stance in response to a series of worst-case scenario findings seemingly based on the assumption that any child who is exposed to technology at all is a child who must be egregiously over-exposed (or, at the very least, allowed exposure exceeding the seemingly reasonable AAP and CPS recommendations cited in her introduction).
To which, I feel compelled to cite a famous nugget of colloquial wisdom: Only a bad craftsman blames his tools.
Now, before anybody starts trolling, I am in no way accusing Cris Rowan of being a bad parent. I don’t know anything about her beyond the content of one article, and – even if I did – it still wouldn’t be my place to judge.
I am, however, expressing ardent disagreement with her stance.
The main problem with handheld devices is not the fact that children use them, it’s that too many parents fail to set limits on their use. It is essentially the same argument that was posed against the rise of video games, the dawn of the television age, and the invention of the radio. Socrates even once posited that writing would erode memory and cripple human intellectualism. Call me crazy, but I think humanity has done just fine for itself in the post-Gutenburg world, thank you very much.
One of my earliest memories is of sitting in a dimly lamp-lit basement in Wheaton playing the Atari 2600. I eventually graduated to the NES and have since owned at least one system in each generation of video game consoles. For most of my childhood and teen years, I played video games every day. And – much to the chagrin of Lieberman, Kohl, and their fellow ’90’s-era doomsayers – I graduated high school with a nearly perfect GPA, went to college on an academic scholarship, and eventually earned a Master’s Degree in education…all while taking up four different sports, learning to play guitar, and writing my first novel. Oh, and continuing to play video games.
But I was blessed with parents wise enough to do three very important things:
1) Set limits on my playing time
2) Encourage me to pursue other interests (reading, writing, athletics, etc)
3) Hold me accountable for my performance in school (among other obligations and responsibilities)
In other words, my parents took it upon themselves to be parents. If my grades slipped or they got a phone call about my behavior at school, they didn’t blame the controller in my hand or the violent nature of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!. They blamed me and they blamed themselves. Then they took me to task and held me responsible. As a result, playing video games became just one part of a generally healthy and balanced childhood.
Fast-forward to 2014. I’m a tenured English teacher and two-sport coach with a stable marriage and two beautiful daughters. I’ve written two more novels, and I’ve been on the sideline for state championship games in both sports. I pay all my bills on time. And, yes, I still play video games.
Then I look at my three-year-old. The Elder (as I call her) has healthy relationships with her friends at pre-school, adores her baby sister, enjoys board games, reads voraciously, and is almost embarrassingly well-spoken. She loves being outside, she’s already seen her first football game and rugby match, and she even knows how to tackle her daddy without exposing her head to injury.
So why should I deny her the privilege of playing with my iPad?
Thanks in part to the App Store, The Elder is accelerated in her understanding of numbers, letters, and phonics; she’s ahead of the curve with sight words and penmanship; she’s learning the importance of perseverance through frustration; and she understands the fact that she lives in a home with limits, boundaries, rules, and – most important – consequences.
So, instead of pointing the proverbial finger at the tablet or the smartphone (or the console, the computer, the TV, the comic book, etc), perhaps it’s time we point our thumbs at ourselves and own up to the fact that maybe we are the ones to blame when our children start to embody the doomsayers’ worst fears.
Then again, I’m a foolishly naïve product of the video game generation that entered adulthood during the digital age, so what do I know? After all, I was always led to believe that when Mario fell in a pit or Little Mac hit the mat, it was nobody’s fault but my own.
As always, thanks for reading.