Dear young parent: You did not ask for my advice. And you are not obligated to read it or heed it. However, because I am an older parent who has been given excellent advice along my parenting journey, I feel a duty to share what I have learned about parenting in this technological age. And it is with great love for all children that I offer these few thoughts.
Your baby/toddler/first-grader/middle schooler/high schooler wants you to look at him rather than at your cellphone. I know this because I am a writing teacher, and many students have shared this fact with me, writing speeches and essays about how they long for your complete attention.
Your young child does not need a personal tablet or phone or laptop. You need not purchase an iPad so that your 2-year-old will be prepared for kindergarten. Trust me: Your child is better off listening to stories, finger painting, building with blocks, and cooking and hiking with you. These activities are rich and will develop your child’s brain more deeply than any screen-based activity ever will.
Without an addiction to screens at a young age, your child can learn to draw, read, think, explore, enjoy the park and have many adventures in our beautiful 3-D world. And it is, after all, quite simple to play games on an iPad. Babies can do it. Frighteningly, they often do. Sometimes they even swipe pages of paper books, disappointed when these do not sing and dance and entertain.
You can say “no.” You are the parent, and this is both your right and your responsibility. Mothers of first-graders have told me they have purchased iPads for their children so that their child “will not be the only one at a birthday party without an iPad.” Tip: birthday parties are better without iPads. If you throw a party for your child, ask children to keep their tablets at home. Play Pin the Tail on the Donkey or get a piñata. Children are still children. They like piñatas. And parents need other parents to be strong. Sometimes it takes only one parent saying “no” to give others the courage to do so. And children, too, like strong parents. They will not tell you this, but it is true.
Embrace the boredom that comes from video-game-free time. Creativity grows from your child’s boredom soil. No boredom soil means no blanket forts, no explosions with baking soda and vinegar, no colored pencil portraits of your dog or cat, no rainy days rereading “Charlotte’s Web.” Remember, boredom is your child’s friend. Children with greatly limited screen time learn to develop fascinating hobbies, and learn to become interested and interesting people.
If your child plays video games, do not allow it during a sibling’s game, car trip or cultural event. Is your third-grader naturally interested in the middle school orchestra concert? Perhaps not. But I promise that she will never learn to appreciate classical music if you allow her to play “Call of Duty” during the show. Same goes for restaurants. Conversation is healthier.
As my mother-in-law says, “You are not raising a child; you are raising an adult.” Your decisions are shaping this future adult now. Nurture the qualities you admire.
I once read an article that stated, “A child’s toy should do 10 percent of the work, and the child should do 90 percent of the work.” I could not agree more.
Childhood is precious. Stick together. Best of luck.