technologyvirtual children by Scott Warnock

Adults, put your devices away!

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Dang kids and their confounded digital whatchamacallits! I mean, it’s exgasperating when they’re out there all the time Chirping, Twitching, Facenoting on the old InterWeb. It’s even dangerous, as this kids-go-bump-in-the day story about cellphone-using Penn zombies shows.

But O Ho! Wait a minute! Adults, we’ve looked into the mirror, or, really, we’ve looked at the 1,500 selfies we’ve posted, and we realize the enemy is us! We’re as obsessed with our devices as our progeny, and we’re in danger of cultivating a generation of disconnected, emotionally callous, babbling fools as a result.

Those annoying screen-absorbed kids?: They are learning their behaviors directly from adults. How many parents have set up their kitchens or living rooms as electronic parlors where they sit and scroll through Facebook? (I might know someone like that…) How many adults have been electronically absent during big chunks of a family vacation? How many parents have never actually seen their kids’ games/recitals except through the eye of a camera?

In an interview in the June 2013 Atlantic, Linda Stone says, “We may think that kids have a natural fascination with phones. Really, children have a fascination with whatever Mom and Dad find fascinating. If they are fascinated by the flowers coming up in the yard, that’s what the children are going to find fascinating. And if Mom and Dad can’t put down the device with the screen, the child is going to think, That’s where it’s all at, that’s where I need to be!”

Stone interviewed kids between the ages of 7 and 12, and she reported their saying things such as “My mom should make eye contact with me when she talks to me” and “I used to watch TV with my dad, but now he has his iPad, and I watch by myself.” Stone says kids will miss out on learning empathy, which is partly learned through eye contact, if their parents’ eyes are constantly staring at a device.

Before you have kids, you might drive by a playground and think about how great it will be taking your kid out on a nice autumn day to play. Then you have kids and you take them to the playground some 200 times. It’s not that warm and fuzzy any more. In fact, look more closely and you see hollow-eyed parents trying to keep their offspring from eating woodchips while trying engage in the noble goal of quality time — that unique look should have a name (it’s deep in the eyes, a kind of glassy, dog-in-the-crate helplessness.) Now, though, parents are at the playground thinking they are getting that sweet little morsel for the soul but instead spending the whole time looking at a cellphone (and, yes, their kids are eating the woodchips).

We are not only teaching them bad technological hygiene, we are stunting their social skills too. But adult tech absorption may have an even more direct and troubling developmental consequence. We may be robbing our kids of a key time of language development. Instead of talking to their young kids, which is a crucial part of linguistic acquisition, parents are instead texting.

The Atlantic has been on top of these topics lately. A month after the piece above, Deborah Fallows in “Papa, Don’t Text” said, “But how ironic is it that, in this era when child-rearing is the focus of unprecedented imagination, invention, sophistication, and expense, something as simple and pleasurable as conversing with our children can be overlooked?” Fallows quotes Dimitri Christakis, author of a Pediatrics study about linguistic development: “You can only do one thing at a time: talk to the baby or talk on the phone.”

It’s all part of a multitasking culture, part of I’m-here-with-you-but-truly interacting with others mindset. You can be a good parent, taking junior out for the day while still having a few work meetings and keeping your fantasy football team updated — except you really can’t.

We have these splendid devices, that’s for sure, that connect us and open up an incredible world of information, knowledge, and interaction. But if we feel these devices are being used in an addictive, socially challenged way by the whippersnapper generation, perhaps we should take a look at what we’re teaching them through our own habits of digital absorption.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.
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11 Responses to “Adults, put your devices away!”

  1. Scott,

    You’re jumping on the Louis C bandwagon!

    I love the line about “dog-in-the-crate helplessness.”

    Funny that we’re now romanticizing how great TV used to be…when a family sat at the dinner table with a newfangled 13″ b&w TV perched on a cart so Dad could watch the news…

    I was in an Apple store today. A 3 year old girl was moving shapes around on an iPad, and they dropped into place (creating a bird) with a bright animation. She was empowered & delighted.

    That’s worth a lot in my book.

    Those parents texting while their kids are eating wood chips? They’re the same ones who were chain smoking and drinking gin and tonics at 4pm (literally, in some cases). Or practicing a British “seen and not heard” detachment. Or sending their kids away to boarding school for 10 months out of the year.

    Besides, it’s good to have something they love that you can deprive them of.

  2. I am going back about ten years ago when having JUST a cell phone was a big deal. This young Dad was accompanying his seven year old daughter on a field trip to the cranberry bogs with her whole class. I am the bus driver and I look in my rearview mirror to see him talking all the way to our destination on his cell phone. Later in the day (and it was the perfect beautiful fall day for this outdoor event) I look out over to the old bog where all the kids and two teachers were bent over picking the fresh cranberries from the vines. There standing upright was the Dad talking away on the cell phone while standing right next to his daughter and not participating with her as she picked her own cranberries with everyone else!

    Also, there is not a morning that I pick up students at their bus stop that I don’t see a parent or grandparent talking on their phones while standing next to their little child completely ignoring their presence or taking advantage of that time together.

    So sad, I’d like to say I enjoyed your article,Scott but it actually pained me to read of the sick behavior I witness every day.

  3. Yes! Put the devices away! My best decision of 2013…deactivating my facebook account!

  4. Ouch.
    But thanks for it. As a flex-time professional computer junkie I tend to forget this too often.
    I should have my son read it so he can remind me. (It’s particularly unfair to him since I have unlimited data on my work device and he has no data plan.)

  5. How the truth can hurt. Wake up parents and smell the roses, so your kids will also smell them. Take your kid to the park, take them fishing, take them hunting, take them on a bike ride, just keep the device in your car or in your pocket.

  6. I find it amazing that people can’t have these things and just control themselves. Instead of deactivating accounts and getting rid of cell phones, I do weird things like avoiding going on the computer and leaving the cell phone home when I go out to dinner with my family. In fact, the phone spends most of its time in another room when I am at home. And I spend a good deal of time blogging, checking Facebook and Twitter, etc. But when I’m with my boys? Ain’t no phone. I also take heat from people for not taking video and clicking pictures all of the time. Love this: “How many parents have never actually seen their kids’ games/recitals except through the eye of a camera?” I hate that I agree with you on so many things.

  7. So true! I was just telling my two daughters, ages 20 and 15 that I feel so sad for today’s toddlers. Back in the day when I would take them for walks around the neighborhood I would point out flowers, bugs, you name it and talked with them the whole time. Now, when I see moms (not all moms but many) they are either talking on the phone or texting while pushing the stroller and I don’t see any interaction with the child. So very sad! I made my girls promise me they won’t do that when they have kids.

  8. ..said the man who counts on the fact that nearly 100% of the readers of this column will read, post, comment, and debate its contents via a smart phone. LOL!

  9. ..said the man who counts on the fact that nearly 100% of the readers of this column will read, post, comment, and debate its contents via a smart phone. LOL!

  10. I wish Louis CK would stop stealing all my ideas.

  11. I get laughed at by my 20-25 year-old nieces and nephews for having a simple flip cell phone. After suffering that indignity, I ask how they are doing in their jobs or at college (a grunt in reply as they slide their fingers on the I Phone to see the latest video of a dog saying “I love you). I ask about their children (before they can answer, a chirp sounds, indicating that all must instinctively dive for their phone) How was the trip to Florida? (Didn’t you see my posts on Facebook?) No, I’m not on Facebook so why don’t you tell me? (Blank stare)

    I like this site where people consider events and trends, formulate their thoughts into sentences and paragraphs, and discourse with each other. Oops I think I went over 140 characters…

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