Opinion · Parenting · Personal · Technology

Why Are Electronic Devices for Kids Still Frowned Upon?

Child playing on an iPadI was at the hospital yesterday, waiting for an appointment and whilst in the busy waiting room, I overheard a conversation. There were several mums with their kids and one child was happily playing on an iPad whilst his mum waited for her appointment, whilst another boy of about 8 was looking on with interest. At this point, I got called into a sub-waiting area, but about five minutes later the mum and child without the iPad got called through to where I was sitting (bear with me, this is going somewhere…)

As they walked through, the boy was asking his Mum if he could play on her phone, seeing as he didn’t have an iPad to play with, and she turned to him and said “Don’t be ridiculous, stop asking for my phone, YOU don’t need to stare at an electronic device to keep you entertained, I raised you better than that!”.

I was quite shocked by her reaction (shocked enough to put the phone that I’d been contentedly engrossed in, whiling away the wait with a few games of ‘Where’s my Water’), but her words really got me thinking; is a child’s need for entertainment really about their upbringing? And why are electronic devices frowned upon?

I’m well aware that there’s an obesity epidemic in children that people claim to have been directly related to time spent playing computer games, but with children able to play outside less and less, is it really that much of a surprise that they look for entertainment elsewhere? And surely it’s not about the devices themselves, but the parental moderation involved?

Sausage owns a Nexus 7, a Chromebook, a Nintendo DS and Wii, an Xbox, an iPod Touch…but despite that, she doesn’t spend all of her time glued to a device because we simply wouldn’t allow it. I can’t stand the implication that once we give our kids consoles or gadgets, we relinquish all control over how they spend their time, or their wellbeing. Nor can I abide the assumption from a small amount of parents who feel like giving kids something with a screen is a substitute for parenting.

The other thing that bothered me about what the mum said was that if you need entertainment during down-time, you must’ve been raised badly. Surely the need for entertainment is a trait that’s shared by all humans? Of course, the type of entertainment varies from person to person…I love to read and blog, others watch TV, others play an instrument, others play games. There’s no right way to be entertained, but surely training a child to sit quietly with their hands in their laps instead of stimulating their brain in some way is limiting them? There’s a lot to be said for quiet contemplation, but I can’t get my head around the thought that a bored kid is a bad kid. It just doesn’t compute.

The real irony of the situation is that after that comment, the mum in question checked her phone no less than a dozen times in the period that we were sitting in that area, completely negating her own argument. Obviously, her comments got my back up on a personal level, seeing as I was sitting there on my phone at the exact moment she said it, but the urge to ask her if she’d also been raised badly after the 10th time of staring at her screen did get rather overwhelming!

The flipside of this is that, in my humble opinion, limiting a child’s access to computing is setting them back, in this day and age. We live in a world where computers are everything, and kids who aren’t highly computer literate are simply going to fall behind. Given that we now teach elementary coding in Primary Schools, we should be giving our kids more screen time in the hope that computer literacy is second nature, not something that’s like pulling teeth, which is how it seems to be for older generations for whom computers simply didn’t exist when they were young enough to soak things up like a sponge.

Aside from all of that, gaming needn’t be mindless – there are myriad apps and games out there which encourage literacy, numeracy, fine motor skills, languages and so much more. We’re happy for these things to be taught in schools, so surely we should embrace anything that broadens our children’s minds?

What do you think? Do your kids have electronic devices? Do you think that a child’s need for entertainment means that they haven’t been raised correctly? Leave me a comment below.

15 thoughts on “Why Are Electronic Devices for Kids Still Frowned Upon?

  1. I know you’ll disagree with my viewpoint but my beef with techno gadgets for kids (and this comes from someone who LOVES gadgets herself…) too many parents use them as babysitters. I hate to see children out at restaurants with their faces buried into Nintendo DS’s or iPods, there’s no need for it and frankly I think it’s rude and antisocial. I see it purely as parents trying to keep their children quiet when they can’t be bothered to entertain them themselves! Of course I’m not implying that’s what you do, of course it can be educational but I don’t believe for one minute that the majority of parents are taking that fact into consideration, I’ve seen far too many people using it as a shut-up tool. I also think there’s plenty of time ahead for children to spend hours in front of apps and games and in situations like being in a waiting room, I take something like a book, colouring or Top Trumps to keep them occupied.

    That’s not to say they don’t have screen time, they do but in fact they rarely ask for it anyway. They have access to a Wii and an iMac in their playroom (as well as iPads/iPods etc) but they probably ask to use it for once or twice a month. They’re both a bit more crafty/creative and quickly bored by computer games and would sooner spend the day wrapping each other in sellotape.

  2. I don’t think that I would have coped as a parent without screens to be honest. My children do have a fair bit of screen time, but there are certain times of the day when nothing else will soothe/calm them down. My son used to wake up at 5am every morning and nothing we could do would get him back to sleep, we used to let him watch videos on our phones while we dozed for a few precious extra minutes. I do feel guilty about it, but I do also do a lot of crafts/days out with them. I think that a waiting room is a perfect example of when a screen can come in very handy, I know that I’d be checking my phone while I was waiting!

    1. You make a good point; it’s about balance, isn’t it? We’ve been entertaining Sausage with a screen of some sort in the same way since she was little, but she also reads, plays with other toys etc. In fact, I was thinking to myself that the hospital waiting room I was in actually used to have a play room attached for bored kids and even had a tv in it which played a kids tv channel. It eventually got phased out because of ‘health and safety gone mad’, but I wonder if the Mum would have frowned upon the kid playing in there or watching the TV, too?

  3. Really interesting blog post. I must confess to being a mother who probably allows her children far too much screen time, and then spends hours feeling really guilty about it. But I also agree that some computer games can be great for their development. Just Dance on the Wii for example. It’s good exercise, it develops coordination, it’s something they can play in a group so it’s great for socialising, plus it’s also really good fun. I agree too that whether we like it or not, everything in the future will be computerised and our children need to be computer literate. Hmm. So can I feel less guilty now?

    1. I don’t think you need feel guilty at all. Computer games have evolved so much and now encapsulate a whole range of activities. It’s mainly thanks to Nintendo, who led the way for other manufacturers to get them up off of the sofa, which was clever marketing for them as it meant they got schmucks like us to spend more money, knowing that games are more developmental now!

  4. I have to admit I used to be a bit of a technology snob too. I think mums look at children today and think “I never had that in my day” or “You had to use your imagination and make your own amusement”. But we really need to move with the times and use what’s at our disposal. I’m sure my own mum used to think I was incredibly spoiled for having a video recorder/CD player/walkman to entertain me.

    1. You make a really good point, Donna, as the grown ups, the onus is on us to adapt and move. My parents would probably still choose to listen to their music on vinyl if they could, but it’s just not viable to kids to keep them stuck in the past. Thanks for commenting.

  5. My kids all love their tech. Betsy uses it to socialise with her mates mostly- when i was a teen I spent all evening on the phone to my mates, then hid from my parents when the phone bill arrived, so not a lot different there really! Max wants to be a computer games designer, and spends time creating his own animations/games on the laptop, and Syd loves playing educational games on my iPad. All of these uses require interaction from the child, which to me makes it a better thing than staring vacantly at the TV which is what I spent a lot of my childhood doing.
    Of course I limit the time they are staring at screens, especially with the younger two, but otherwise I dont see the harm , in fact conversely I think they are actually a good thing, as their are learning stuff!

    1. That’s another really good point – future employment is going to depend of technology even more than it does now – if the kids can’t use tech, they’ll just lose out to someone who can. I certainly don’t want that to happen.

  6. I’m a big fan of technology for children – mine both have a Google Nexus and my younger one has an ipod touch while the older one has an iphone. They also have a Wii and an XBox 360 between them and I’m happy for them to play on them within reason – like you I won’t let them play on electronics all the time and they have plenty of other things to do and to play with but there’s nothing wrong with spending a reasonable amount of time on their electronics.

    1. And, when you think about it, the vast majority of the Wii games involve some sort of physical interaction, too, so even extended playtime on that console isn’t bad either. They’re a great way for them to burn off some energy on a rainy day! Thanks for commenting.

  7. I got a Kindle for Christmas last year but my son soon claimed it and I’ve since come to see it as a brilliant learning tool. He has plenty of his own books on there as well as puzzles, drawing apps, memory games and all sorts. I’m sure it’s one of the reasons why he is so good with letters and numbers and he is amazing with puzzles and problem solving. It still astounds me that at just two and a half he will happily adjust the volume or screen brightness by himself to suit the situation. If we’re stuck in a waiting room or we have a long car journey it means he can play and learn rather than sit there bored. Adults look at their phones or read magazines in waiting rooms, I don’t see why our children should have to sit twiddling their thumbs, particularly when they have even less of an idea than we do over how long they will be waiting for. I think it’s important that a child learns how to be quiet and patient when necessary, but I don’t see why a child should ever have to be bored. If they are then it means that we are failing as parents to find suitable stimulation for them. I find it quite sad that the woman in your blog not only refused to let her son use the entertainment of an electronic device but also that she didn’t in any way provide an alternative. I always carry a few books and crayons with me just in case the need arises.

    1. Her lofty attitude really bothered me and it’s only making her child suffer, not doing him the favours that she thinks it is. As you say, even if he didn’t have an electronic device to use, surely he could have read or coloured? Sausage got a Nook for her birthday, which is only for reading, nothing else…should I deprive her of that, too, because it has a battery? Thanks for commenting.

  8. Being a geek at heart, I’m all for giving my children screen time. I’m in full agreement that letting them learn how to use and navigate the myriad devices available to us, will indeed help them as they get older. If technology keeps developing a the break-neck speed that it is, their whole futures will be dependant on some of these gadgets, so learning young can give them a great head-start.

    On the flip side however, I do think that it needs to be in moderation. There needs to be a good balance between screen-time and other forms of entertainment, so that they grow up with a healthy curiosity for technology, matched with the desire to learn and grow in other areas.

    1. That’s the thing isn’t it, we’re happy to impart knowledge and experience to prepare them for the future in other ways, but whether we like it or not, technology is the future!

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