Should you allow use of today's technology as a means to entertain your child while in a restaurant?
I recently read an article by Nick Bilton in the New York Times http://nyti.ms/Y7Qk7R entitled “The Child, the Tablet and the Developing Mind.” He writes on technology and the “Bits” blog for the Times. I was particularly struck by his response to a question his sister asked. She was talking about how she lets her children use iPads at the dinner table when she doesn’t want to. “If it keeps them occupied for an hour so we can eat in peace and more importantly not disturb other people in the restaurant..” She asked him, “Do you think that it’s bad for them.” He couldn’t answer that question and my response is the same, “I don’t know.”
There is little research that would give us confidence to know how technology affects us in the future. What we all might agree on is that it does affect them. It is interesting that the article by Mr. Bilton states: “A report published last week by the Millennium Cohort Study, a long-term study group in Britain that has been following 19,000 children born in 2000 and 2001, found that those who watched more than three hours of television, videos or DVDs a day had a higher chance of conduct problems, emotional symptoms and relationship problems by the time they were 7 than children who did not. The study, of a sample of 11,000 children, found that children who played video games — often age-appropriate games — for the same amount of time did not show any signs of negative behavioral changes by the same age.” One wonders, “are video games better?” It suggests how difficult it is for a parent to know how to best guide their children in this age of technology.
We humans are sensitive to stimulation provided by media, iPhone and iPad. As parents, it’s particularly important that we are informed of these influences and help our children use them in their best interest. After all, our children are particularly vulnerable as their brains are in the dramatic process of development. Through their experiences, they develop habits of thinking, learning and engaging that will shape their future experiences and relationships as adults. Even though we have little confidence about how technology affects our children’s development, we have a responsibility to guide them.
I do have an answer for Mr. Bilton’s sister. I think that it’s important to treasure any opportunity for “face to face” relationship time and eating together is one of those times. I know how frustrating and upsetting it is to cope with boredom, whining and fighting at the dinner table. It certainly sparks conflict between parents when chaos ensues. Yet, I think that it’s worthwhile to work on making our time together meaningful and engaging.
I value the contribution that technology has contributed to our lives and our minds. In some ways, I believe it to be immeasurable. However, we are still biological organisms and there are limits to our physiology. In Mr. Bilton’s essay, he quotes Sherry Turkel, a professor at MIT who writes about technology’s impact on society. She points out the importance of being alone to think and be without the intrusion of some instrument or external stimulation. She calls this “the bedrock of early development” and not to “rob them” of this valuable developmental experience by the distraction of an instrument. I like when she says, “Conversations with each other are the way children learn to have conversations with themselves and learn how to be alone.”
So when it comes to what parents should do, I think that parents should do what they always seem to do-the best that they can. It means that what’s most important is the quality of our relationships, how much we respect each other’s feelings and points of view and we try to create a collaborative family environment to work together. Technology is now integral to modern day living. It enhances our lives and threatens our lives. It’s important to consider our values and let them guide us. It’s also important to be flexible and open to change. That means to me that the only way to do it, make good decisions and bad ones. Learn from them restructure to be more effective. The iPad is an important tool and we have to help our children regulate tools to increasingly gain experience and mastery.
This article was originally published at Center for Relationship Enhancement Ginsberg Associates . Reprinted with permission from the author.