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  • Writer's picturemisha

Tech Support -- How To Plug Your Kids In

So my eleven year old son, my husband, and I had a pretty good time tearing apart an anti-technology/anti-“screen-time” article in an otherwise well-written “crunchy” parenting magazine. The article was an incredibly ham-fisted attempt by the author to scare folks into buying/utilising their services, in my opinion and I am a little embarrassed for the magazine for publishing such an article.

While some of the studies cited were legit and not just backed by other companies/services that stand to gain from their studies revealing damning results of children utilising technology, most of it was bullshit and/or relating to adults with online gambling addictions — that being a completely different issue to some degree.

I am not exactly sure where to being with this, except that every. single. time. one of these articles come out there is a check list of points they all hit on:

  • porn. PORN. PoRn. pOrN.

  • addiction

  • neglect

  • isolation. detachment.

  • VIOLENCE! Video games cause violent behaviour!

  • screen-time/video games make aggressive children.

  • NATURE! Go outside!

  • Families don’t spend enough time together or apart from technology.

  • Misty-eyed comments about how it used to be for families X-amount of years ago.

Every single one of these articles reads like a Luddite Manifesto and this particular one was no different. These articles all seem to ignore the fact that our world is run by technology and every day, more and more of our personal lives, work, academic settings, and basic errands like banking and grocery shopping are connected, plugged-in, and becoming harder to accomplish without the use of technology. For good or for bad, technology is king at present moment and I see no end in sight.

Arbitrarily limiting children’s access to technology is not a good idea:

“We do know that technology will play a huge part of the future of education and business; this is obvious even in the present moment. Purposely limiting our children’s access to computer literacy and social media is limiting their futures — most jobs now require more computer and Internet literacy in order to merely apply for them than what is actually needed to do the work of the job. Children who are engaged with social media and online content are immersed in an endless world of information. They can learn more from watching an hour of YouTube videos than from an entire day of typical institutionalised school/homeschool curriculum. Technology is not just limited to the usual “screen time” activities people think about, but it is also, coding and programming, editing film and photography, graphic design, music composition, and video game development to name a few. More importantly, the children who are immersed in these worlds are playing a huge part in shaping how these worlds will look five years from now and beyond.” – michele james-parham

Maybe Unschoolers Are Just Special:

Media is just another tool for learning for unschooling families like ours and thousands of others across the globe.

Something I feel that needs to be pointed out is that none of the studies conducted are done with children and families from unschooling (or similar) homes and communities — environments where children are trusted to find their own groove with technology, to use it as a tool for learning and entertainment, and not for escapism. One of the same reasons mainstream children outside of these communities utilise technology in the ways that they do is why adults became “television addicts” once the novelty of family time around the television or radio became a thing of the past — escapism. Being part of the mainstream rat-race, working for someone else, taking orders from someone else, maintaining only superficial relationships with friends/family at best, and not having time to pursue passions and hobbies that fulfil and sustain, leads folks to want to escape reality. Children forced into rigid school/social activities, constantly dictated to, not allowed to decide for themselves their passions, hobbies, and learning environments, seek out escapist activities as well.

What better escapist activities are there than books, television/movies, video games, and drugs?

I will admit I am biased for many reasons:

  • my own son is well immersed in the world of technology and he does not resemble the children described in the article

  • I am well immersed in the world of technology — it is part of my many jobs — and I do not resemble the children or adults in the article

  • just as many, if not more, articles and studies can be thrown out there refuting this particular one

  • I know and have met hundreds of other children and adults immersed in tech who do not resemble the children and adults in this article

  • I have been made aware of thousands of other children and adults (through the power of technology) who do not resemble the children and adults in this article

Internet Addiction – Nature vs. Nurture:

Many of the descriptions of “internet addicted” children/adults mentioned in the article seem to fall more into a correlation category or chicken vs. egg category. What comes first, playing online video games and becoming inept at social engagements or is it being socially challenged to being with and gravitating towards social environments that you have more control over, like online video games? Do violent video games cause violent children or is it that children who already have other issues in their lives causing them to act out and be aggressive gravitate towards games that allow them to channel their aggression in less harmful ways? The psychological anthropologist part of me can not ignore the intricate dance that both Nurture AND Nature play in how a person reacts to stimuli or what a person uses for escapism & coping. Articles like the one in question (which use the word “balance” many times, that are far from being balanced themselves), only look at one thing, technology, as the source of the problem, when it is so clearly more complex than just handing a three year old an iPad with unfettered access to it.

Poor social skills, for example, is one of the signs of individuals with “internet addiction”. It is also an area that both my son and I struggle in at times (we are both Aspies), but it was not *caused* by using media-related technology. I would actually argue that technology, social media to be more specific, has played a huge role in improving our social skills. Learning delays is another example from the article said to be a result of being plugged-in, which I find to be most laughable considering the large amount of children who learn to read (often at an early age, like my son) because of media-based technology, more specifically because of video games.

Some quotes from us while reading the article out loud:

“I still don’t understand ‘no hand-held devices’; that just doesn’t make any sense. What is supposed to happen that is so bad if you have them?”
“The article is so wrong; it says that I am supposed to have these horrible diseases and will die before you guys die. That is not true in the slightest bit.”
“Who actually believes this stuff?” — “Answer: a lot of people do.”
“Studies have shown that playing video games improves eye-hand coordination and manual dexterity.”
“Okay, yeah and farming doesn’t include technology? It is the mechanisation of work that has led to people not having work to do and thus filling more of their time with technology-based entertainment.”
“Can I take this article and replace ‘tech/technology’ with Nature and then republish it?”
“If I stick you in a library full of thousands of books for an entire year and then one day, when you wake and you are in an empty library, you are going to be pissed, aggressive, and have signs of withdrawal because your books are all gone. But books are seen as ‘good’, while video games/internet is seen as ‘bad’.”

The article has a section titled “Ten Steps to Successfully Unplug Your Children from Technology”. We decided to offer an alternative list of how to plug your children into technology. It is obviously aimed at parents who are wanting to live in a more consensual, partnership-centred relationship with their children, than a more traditional, mainstream, or authoritarian relationship.

Is there a line parents can cross with regards to their children and the use of technology? Yes. Unfortunately, if parents are going to replace their role in their children’s lives with technology, then this list is not going to help them, nor would the one in the magazine article.

Ten Steps to Successfully Plug Your Children into Technology

1.) Become Informed regarding what your children are getting into and how they are using technology. Now, I do not mean, clandestinely go looking at your child’s browser history, but what I do mean is ask. Ask about what they are into. Ask to sit down and watch YouTube videos with them. Grab a controller and ask to play their games with them. Experience their technology WITH them. Check in on them. Care about what they are into and find out WHY they are into it. Care enough about their passions that they want to share them with you.

2.) Disconnect Yourself – Be available for your children! Sure. I mean, we do set examples for our children, right? So, if technology seems important to us, then it follows that our children might think it should be important to them as well. As an unschooling parent, one of the things I always remind parents new to the unschooling world is to engage in your own passions and hobbies, if you want your children to see that passions and hobbies are important. In short, get off the damn computer and work a puzzle, workout, paint models, bake cookies, plant a garden, or whatever it is that fuels your fire.

3.) Reconnect – Designate “sacred time” with your children. Connect with your children and what it is that fuels their fire. Most importantly, if it IS something technology-based and you are having a hard time connecting with it or embracing it, find a way to support your child’s love of it. If it is a show and they are going to miss it in order to do some other activity, record it for them. If it is a video game, buy the next one in the series for them or the player's handbook for them. If technology is not The Thing, then take walks together, read out loud to one another, cook each other meals, people watch together at the mall, or have a standing weekly cafe date together. And if technology is The Thing, do all of those other things together AND support your child’s love of it 😊

4.) Explore Alternatives – Or Have More Awesome Things Planned. You have to be more interesting than YouTube. You have to have activities, passions, and hobbies that rival Grand Theft Auto. If you suck as a person in the interesting department, then your children are not going to want to do anything with you, leave the house, go outside, or ‘engage in family activities’. It is not enough to ask your children to step away from technology, but you have to offer them a reason to want to do it. Be fun. Be alive. Have cool things going on in your own life and then share them with your children. And if they come to you with something on their own, find a way to support them in it.

5.) Enhance Skills in psychosocial areas. Who is your child? How do they learn? What kind of social environments to they thrive in? Do they have a spiritual practice? You can use the internet, together, with your child to take personality tests and learning style tests to get a clearer picture of the best way to support them in their educational goals and on their path in life. Does your child prefer to socialise one-on-one, in small groups, or do they crave huge groups of peers to mingle in? Is your child introverted or extroverted? Knowing these things makes your job of facilitation much easier and you will not make mistakes like signing your introverted child up for long, large group-based activities. Everyone needs to find a way to embrace the ineffable regardless of religious beliefs (or a lack thereof) — explore yoga in the park together, sitting silently in the woods, fishing, gardening, raising animals, cleaning a creek, looking at the stars, or cloud watching — the world is full of things to be in awe of: share them together.

6.) Enhance Development and Learning through engagement in the four critical areas — movement, touch, human connection, and nature. Throw on some music and dance. Play games that involve the whole body like, Twister or WiiFit. My son stands and moves around the room doing random things most of the time while he is listening to/watching a video on YouTube, but he is a fidget-er by nature and not one to just passively sit still for hours (like most school children are expected to do for hours during the day). People like to move, so move! We hug in our house, sit next to one another, massage each other’s feet and shoulders, and cuddle and while we are doing these things, we talk about what is on our minds. Nature is also very important, but it is important to keep in mind that we are all different in how we connect with it. For example, my son does not really enjoy being outside without a specific purpose. Bright sunlight hurts his eyes (just like me), he hates getting dirty, and does not enjoy being overly hot or cold. However, he does like checking to see if there are strawberries ready to be eaten right off the plant, mushrooms ready to be harvested, and going on walks in the alleyway to identify wild plants with me. Lazy conversations in the hammock are go-to mother-son dates as well.

7.) Address Perceptions of Safety – of outside and the internet. Children who have parents that will not allow them to go outside, in their own yards and on their own streets at least, are less likely to want to be outside period. The world is statistically SAFER now than it ever has been for unattended youths out and about, but the news would have us believe otherwise. Teaching children how to take care of themselves outside and online are not that dissimilar: not giving out personal information like your real name or address are key points. One of the main issues with online safety that comes up is trust — if children can not trust their parents to listen to them if they should need or want to confide in them without judgement or punishment, it is much easier to turn to peers and strangers on the internet (I know from personal experience). It is the child who does not have an active open relationship with their parent(s) who meets up with a stranger from the internet. It is the child who has not been taught to have and share their true feelings and opinions or to question people and situations who meets up with a stranger without knowing how to safely (or without asking for assistance from their parents to do it safely).

8.) Create Individual Roles and foster independence. Nothing builds independence like having someone else dictate how you can utilise technology, right? Wrong. Children need to come into their own, on their own terms. Rushing or stunting a child’s place or role in the family unit is counter-productive. We no longer live agrarian lives that depend on the entire family “pulling its weight”. Some children are born as natural people-pleasers and will take up tasks and chores readily and some children are born as natural thinkers and analysers who are more into planning and coming up with solutions to help make things in the home work more smoothly. If your child loves to cook or bake, then it stands to make sense encouraging them in their role of family cook or baker. If your child is always reading, looking things up, or contemplating ideas, then it stands to make sense encouraging them in their role of family planner, travel researcher, list-maker, checkbook balancer, etc.. Just arbitrarily assigning roles/tasks makes no sense and causes children to not want to help out and instead go escape via technology.

9.) Schedule Balance – make time for technology and non-technology activities. A fear of scarcity can make children (and adults) cling to things they otherwise would overlook or pass up. Trying to dole out “tech time” like a reward will drive children to sneaking it and trying to get as much of it as they can. Avoid the tendency to over schedule activities, especially for children who are attending public/private school and have less free time to pursue their own things. If you start to see your children using technology as an escape, cut back on extra curricular activities that their hearts are not into and also, consider re-evaluating their educational environment and options. Before you criticise how your children spend their free time, say your judgements to yourself, but replace their activity with an activity that you choose to spend your free time doing — see how it makes you feel.

10.) Link Up with Technology in Your Community. Increase your children’s human connections and social activities by embracing their love for technology. Is your child a budding video game designer or developer like mine is? We are lucky to have a game development studio here in Pittsburgh with real people to talk to about the industry and real games in-process to beta test. Help your child get a volunteer position at the public library. Libraries are hotspots of technology usage with online catalogues, e-books, business centres, tech-related classes, and there are always older folks needing assistance with technology who love hanging out with the younger, more hip crowd. There are also community tech and maker spaces like TechShop where your children can gain important skills and collaborate with some of the most brilliant minds in their community. Technology does not just happen on iPhones in boring back seats or on the PlayStation in the living room, it is all around us and integral to how our world works — go out there and dive in.

Closing Thoughts:

I am just a parent who utilises technology and that has child who is plugged-in. One of my pet peeves are articles that seek to vilify ANYTHING other than the very relationships that we as parents have with our children. When did it become so taboo to just admit that some people suck at being parents? Why do we always feel the need to point fingers at technology, certain music genres, violent video games, clothing styles, sexuality, and so on? Why can we not just stop and really analyse the interpersonal relationships we have with our children? What do the uber “crunchy”, Waldorf-loving, anti-tech parents who find solace in this anti-tech article do if/when their children still grow up exhibiting the dramatic signs of “internet/technology addiction” despite perfectly following the advice given by their anti-tech gurus?

I do not know. And hey, maybe I am incredibly wrong and misguided, but I do know that if I followed the advice of this article (and all of the others that are practically carbon copies of it), I would not be able to run my business as a homebirth midwife (how’s that for low-tech!) and community herbalist as efficiently and as transparently as I do now; I would feel increasingly isolated from other like-minded, adults, parents, and colleagues who are not geographically close to me; I would not have the time or ability to rant about ridiculous magazine articles (or write my own articles); and most importantly, I would not have the insanely awesome relationship that I have with my son, a person who has taught me more about how to be a non-sucky parent than any guru out there.

The article in question that we read together:

Rowan, Cris. “Tech Neglect: Disconnect from Technology and Reconnect with Our Children.” Holistic Parenting: Home of Authentic Family Living January – February 2015: 16-21. Print.

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