Parents will do almost anything to limit the tears at bedtime.
That’s why when an acquaintance said she lets her 18-month-old go to sleep in his cot with an iPad, I almost understood. Almost.
I also sort of felt sad for her boy. Gone are the times when a snuggle, a cuddle and a bedtime story will do. This boy instead has an episode of his favourite TV show played on the iPad, which he watches before falling asleep next to the device. “And there are no tears,” his mother says. But at what cost?
A recent survey released in America has shown that kids’ usage of mobile devices and tablets have gone through the roof. 72% of under 8’s and almost 40% of under 2’s have used a mobile device to engage with some kind of media, such as videos, games and apps.
It used to be that television was the regular babysitter in most households. It still is to a great extent. But now we have mobile devices so these electronic babysitters can travel with us. These days it’s a regular sight to go out for a meal and see the adults at the table engaging in conversation – while their children are engaged with their devices.
There have been many studies that have shown that screen time, including watching TV and the use of mobile devices, is bad for children. It’s been recommended that under 2’s have no screen-time at all and that for young children’s screen-time is limited to an hour or so per day. Too much screen-time for kids has been linked to obesity, behavioural issues, sleeping problems and impaired academic performance.
Yet despite all this, parents can’t help themselves when it comes to letting children use these devices.
I have two young children so I understand the amount of guilt and pressure being put on modern parents. Nothing we do is adequate enough. And I know, sometimes it’s easy to go with the flow; to choose the path of least resistance. Both my kids have used apps and watched videos on mobile devices – and I’ve found them a godsend at times when they have to stay in one place for extended periods of times – like in GP’s waiting rooms, or on flights. But I’m conscious of limiting their usage, and I’m also aware that the use of these devices will have consequences.
As adults we have all lived in a time where communicating through a mobile device wasn’t the norm. We had landlines that we used to call and – gasp – speak to people. We went to school without mobiles in our schoolbags. We switched off our computers at work and left, and that was the end of the working day. There was no nagging feeling to check emails when at home, on the bus, on the toilet…
How quickly and easily things change. Fastforward to the present day. It’s a time where, it seems, the preferred mode of communication for most people is a non-verbal one. Send a text, a tweet, an email – just don’t call. And if you have to call, most of us are secretly hoping for voicemail. Come on, aren’t we? Well, unless you’re trying to sell something.
If it was that easy for us to transform into what we are today, ask yourself: what’s it going to be like tomorrow? What does it mean for Generation Z – for the kids being born today, who might never have to get used to verbally communicating in the first place? Who will never have to call up someone up for a date? Or call a company to see if they’re hiring? Or endure the awkwardness of making friends IRL?
Every one of these tasks can be done online. Are we raising a generation of kids who don’t really have to learn to speak?
Perhaps. What’s certain is that in our rush towards technological advancement little heed is being given to such concerns. Despite all the warnings about screen-time, tablets and other devices are being used more frequently in our schools, and even in our pre-schools, as learning aids. Some researchers, such as the ones trialling the usage of iPads in kindergartens in Queensland think it’s a good thing that young children use these devices. They are now a fact of life and the earlier our kids can use them, the better they can advance – in school, in work, in life.
Perhaps instead of trying to change our kids, the onus will be on us. To re-evaluate our own values. To think of a Facebook message wishing us a ‘Happy birthday’ as holding the same intrinsic value as a phone call (let’s be honest, it really doesn’t). Perhaps our relationships, too, will become more distant, always guarded through the defence of a screen.
But hey, at least we’ll be technologically savvy, right? Which is good for the economy – so maybe it’s not all bad. Or is it?
Saman Shad is a storyteller and playwright.