The Big Disconnect
Do your kids a favor and read this book.
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Nor is it simply what our children are exposed to. Equally troubling is what these plugged-in kids are not learning: critical steps in the development process such as empathy, negotiating skills, impulse control, sustained attention, and the capacity to be alone and connect with oneself. She laments the loss of boredom – which this plugged-in generation seldom feels – as the critical first step to creativity.Skip to next paragraph
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And yet, as busy parents wanting to quell their complaints from the mini-van carpool, we hand them an iPhone game. What we don’t realize is by making it easy on ourselves, we’re making it harder on our children: Those rapid-tap games are rewiring their brains for fast-twitch thinking, which may lead to helpful multi-tasking (surfing the Net while writing a paper), but also to careless multi-tasking (texting while driving).
In the chapter on 3- to 5-year-olds, “Mary Had A Little iPad,” Steiner-Adair illustrates precisely what a child misses when tech replaces play. Four-year-old Alissa says her favorite game is “dress-up,” which she plays after school – on the family iPad. Alissa’s “little index finger darts expertly from space to space as she selects items and colors. Tiara or barrette? Tap! Stiletto heels or peek-toe pumps? Tap!” (Even before this game can begin, Alissa had to watch ads for detergent and allergy medication.)
For Steiner-Adair, this is not “playing dress-up” at all. Rather, real dress-up involves digging through a box of old clothes; feeling and smelling the fabrics; finding one shoe and not the other, and then turning disappointment into a creative solution; inviting a friend and having to negotiate who gets to wear the only tiara; tattling to your mother and being heard; and all the while telling yourself stories, imagining yourself as a princess, with that old couch your castle.
These actual moments of play, Steiner-Adair says, “stretch creativity and develop imaginations. They deepen your capacity to learn and to keep learning, taking you on to new developmental challenges and growth.”
What’s a family to do? The author’s final chapter, “The Sustainable Family,” presents practical guidelines, among them: Declaring a family philosophy; providing non-tech activities you do together; keeping communication open, even though it means having awkward conversations about topics you never had the occasion (or need) to discuss with your own parents.
So unplug from your own tech distraction, pick up this book, and read. Learn what our children are actually doing on today’s plugged-in playground. Decide right now: What kind of childhood do I want for her? What kind of skills will make him a caring, loving adult, and how can I teach, and reinforce, those skills?
It starts at home. Listen to what one tech-savvy teenager said: “I think in the olden days families mattered more. It feels like we’re losing the idea that family matters.”