Technology and little kiddos do not go together. At least not unsupervised.
It pains me to say that my 2 year old MacBook Air has suffered a demise at the hands of my toddler. She has dropped my laptop more times than I can remember and a week ago the laptop finally gave out and went to computer heaven. I was happily making notes for my dissertation when the screen just started fizzling and then turned completely white. I hooked it up to another LCD screen and it was the same thing, suggesting that it was a larger hardware malfunction (and not just a screen problem). Alas! I did not purchase Apple Care. A similar thing happened to my iPad about two years ago. The screen broke into a million pieces. And so did my heart. I did not reprimand my daughter because it is entirely my fault for leaving my tech stuff all over the house for her to access. Recently, the triplets have also taken to biting the cable wires.
I am actually not the kind of parent to shield my little ones from all types of screen. My toddler gets to watch TV every now and then, and when she is sick she is given iPad privileges, and despite not teaching her, she is quite adept at using my mobile phone. I started also showing vintage Sesame Street videos to the triplets. The fact is I use the computer and iPad a lot for work and entertainment and its entirely hypocritical of me to keep it away from my children. Plenty of arguments have been set forth regarding the advantages and disadvantages about screen time for children under 2. I am quite familiar with the scientific and pseudo-scientific literature. I decided that its okay for them to be exposed to the screen if I am there to supervise them and if its in moderate amounts. We also recently got our hands on a used PS3 passed down to us by a friend and in due time, we will let the kids play on it too.
I plan to start technology education early, sometime when the children are of kindergarten age. I am not sure what technology education entails but I will find out in due time. And I am not sure what the technology will be like when they start school but if I was a parent of four school-going tweens today, I would install 2 desktop iMacs in their room and allow each girl to have an iPad (all of which with parental controls installed). And I would totally be okay with if they wanted to play video games. But I would restrict the amount of hours they would spend on these devices. Sometime when they get older, like maybe 16, 17 or 18, they would be given full autonomy to use these devices without parental restrictions and regulations, and I hope by that time, I have taught them how to use computers and social media responsibly.
Right now the girls’ screentime are heavily decided by my husband and I. They are only allowed to watch cBeebies on TV because I feel its the only channel that encourages play and it is entirely gender-neutral. None of its programmes cater specifically to girls or boys. Their programme on Engineering for example, is hosted by a female scientist (she’s probably an actor but her persona in there is an Engineer). They also have a programme where little fairy creatures do Yoga, which they call Yogo and Livia is fond of following their yoga movements. Outside of cBeebies, they get to watch Sesame Street, Barney, and Hi-5 in Mandarin. And they also get to watch every new animation that comes out from Pixar and Ghibli House (a Japanese animation studio). Again, I only choose animations that are gender-neutral and have positive messages about women and so far I have not seen a single animation from either Pixar or Ghibli House that I would not show my daughters. Recently Livia watched Totoro and she couldn’t stop talking about it. Sometimes I allow her to watch Disney, but very rarely because I am not fond of its heavy Princess themes.
I tried to introduce Livia to theatre musicals adapted to TV but she doesn’t seem as interested in them yet. I will try again next time.
The thing is I am not into shielding my children from technology. Our parents had it worst than we did. They parented in an age where they barely knew how computers and the Internet worked. My mum and dad sent me to MS Dos classes to teach me about computer use. By the time I got a computer, the whole platform had been switched to Windows, rendering my MS Dos lessons useless. I actually learnt how to use a computer and the Internet all on my own, and it was already that intuitive back then that as a 14 yo, I could navigate it quite easily. There were also pitfalls where I would come across predators in chat-rooms but I had enough common sense to stay away from them. We, however, are parenting in a social media age where we are barely able to maintain our privacy, and for some reason we are projecting all our insecurities on our children to the point that we are blanketing them entirely from technology. I hope to imbue my girls with the same kind of common sense that I had when I was learning to use the computer and the Internet. I actually cannot see a scenario where all the shielding will actually make children any less interested in computers, iPads and television when they are finally given a choice or a little bit of freedom to use them. And if we want to prepare them for what’s out there, then we have to start educating and exposing them early.
There is a huge caveat in all of this. I do not replace movement, play, human interaction and basic education with technology. There will not be a day where I will choose iPad over Play-Doh, and coding lessons over sewing lessons. The intention with technology for very young children is limited and heavily supervised exposure, but not as babysitters and teachers. So when I see parents immediately flip open an iPad to distract their infant or toddler so that they can dine in peace in a restaurant, I immediately frown. Technology in this case is used to distract and stupefy, not for learning, teaching or bonding.