Should we buy tablets for our children?
Ok, so a lot of us have, but how guilty should we be feeling about it?
Children have access to devices and gadgets that those of us growing up in the 1970s and 80s could only dream of. I’ve tried to explain a life before all this to my four and six year olds - life before mobile phones (let alone smartphones), the Internet, tablets, social networks, Sky+, GPS, Pixar – it’s impossible for them to understand. Just as it’s impossible for us to have understood as children what living through bombing and rationing was like for our parents growing up in Britain in the 1940s and 50s.
Our childrens’ childhoods are fundamentally different to our own, but this isn’t a purely technological phenomenon. The fundamental change is the access that our children now have to people outside our geographic and cultural communities. If our home is connected to the Internet (and there are still many who aren’t) our children have access to pretty much any video, music, blog, game, and app published by anyone in the world.
It’s no wonder that children can spend hours on their tablets, with the world literally at their fingertips. When we were taping the Sunday night Radio 1 Top 40 countdown on a cassette recorder, would we have jumped at the chance to access any of the music we wanted to listen to on iTunes, or Spotify, or the legion other services? When our communities revolved around magazines, we had to wait a week or a month to interact with our community. Would we have jumped at the chance to be part of a real-time worldwide community of like-minded souls?
We live in amazing times:
The access that our children have to devices is merely a function of how quickly tablets have penetrated our lives. From the launch of the first iPad in April 2010, we have bought these devices and the many like them in their hundreds of millions, and integrated them completely into our daily lives. It’s no wonder that our children, the Digital Natives in our homes, are drawn to them.
From a personal perspective (admittedly as a technophile, but one more interested in what technology can do for us than in shiny gadgets themselves), the question is not whether our children should have access to devices at an early age – though a significant minority of children themselves are ambivalent as to whether they should. It is already too late for that.
The question is how we should help our children to understand the world they find on their devices, and help to educate them on the pitfalls and dangers, experience their discoveries with them, and help them find the creative and challenging activities online that their developing brains need.
We need to set boundaries (too many hours spent doing anything becomes a problem), keep them consistently, and when time’s up, we should play with our kids as much as we can. If we buy an iPad and leave them to it for hours on end, should we be surprised at what they find?
Guilt seems to be the principal emotion in parenthood, because whatever we do, it isn't quite the right thing. But we shouldn’t feel guilty that our kids are of their era. They're not addicts.
We should feel guilty about letting them play too long because it keeps them quiet for another twenty minutes when we’re busy – just as our parents felt guilty for letting us watch too many cartoons when we were kids.
We'll make our choices about the way that we want to bring up our children, and we'll get things wrong as often as we get them right, but let's not feel guilty just because the world moves on.
By: Anthony Lewis