It's hard work being a low-tech parent

playing in the snow
© K Martinko

Technology is wonderfully useful for many things, but when it comes to parenting, it's best left turned off.

Being a low-tech parent is hard. There are many times when I wish I didn’t care so much and could simply hand my kids an iPad or turn on a TV to distract them. It would certainly make parenting easier, but I don’t believe it would make it any better. In fact, the more I observe and learn about the effect that early technology use has on children today, the more I recoil in distress.

The sum total of technology in my home consists of two older model iPhones (with no games apps), a tiny MacBook Air that I use for work, and an eight-year-old desktop computer that gives us endless trouble. There are no iPads, no e-readers, no televisions, or iPods. Our young children are expected to entertain themselves with toys, books, and bikes.

Many people are either surprised or disapproving of the old-fashioned way in which we choose to raise our kids. I often hear the following questions:

“How will they relate to their peers if they’re not up to date on pop culture references?"

I’m not worried about that. Kids are incredibly resilient and creative. As a kid who was raised completely tech-free, it’s true that I felt out of the loop at times, but I quickly learned how to fake the social literacy needed to participate in my peers’ conversations. It doesn’t take much to learn the names and characters of popular TV shows or games. As ‘cool’ as those may seem, I suspect that those kids raised on pop culture will eventually realize how commercially scripted their entire childhoods were, and they’ll wish they had some of the real, living, created memories that I want for my kids.

“Won’t they be behind in learning how to use technology?”

Tell me, how hard was it for you to learn how to use Google and an iPhone in your relative old age? The answer is likely, “It wasn’t hard.” Smart technology is designed to be intuitive and as easy to use as possible. Few things infuriate me as much as the amount of time dedicated to computer literacy in early elementary school – as if there’s nothing more valuable to teach children at that age than how to swipe an iPad.

I’m not alone in my unorthodox stance. Steve Jobs was a dedicated low-tech parent, as reported by Nick Bilton in the New York Times. In fact, many successful tech CEOs insist on having extremely strict rules about technology use for their children. Many Silicon Valley executives send their children to Waldorf schools where technology is banned until eighth grade, and then allowed only in very small doses.

“These tech CEOs seem to know something that the rest of us don’t,” Bilton reports.

They understand the dangers of technology addiction (to which young children under age 10 are particularly susceptible), harmful content, and cyber bullying. They know that technology can inhibit children’s academic performance and their ability to make friends and to learn social etiquette.

As hard as it is to always come up with alternative distractions – making play dough from scratch, pulling out the paints, supervising outdoor play – I’ll happily do so for the few short years that my children are small. They have their whole lives ahead to use technology. It’s my job to give them the tools and reasons to use it wisely, when the time comes, as well as a stash of fabulous memories from a truly ‘lived’ childhood, not one spent staring at a screen.

Tags: Kids | Steve Jobs | Technology

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