While aspects of the Huffington Post article, “Why High-Tech Parenting Won’t Destroy Your Kids,” is interesting and thoughtful, there are many difficult and frightening quotes and sources. For starters, parents should worry about the effects these devices are having on our children. The average amount of time that a child uses a device is SEVEN hours per day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. That is 1/2 of their awake time (non-sleep). The increased amount of ADD and ADHD is tremendously apparent in children today. Far too many children look spaced out, removed and uninterested. The slightest bit of boredom leads them back to the device of their choice, and they frequently, sit in a poorly lit room with the singular look of captivity on the iPad.
One reason that Waldorf schools advocate for no technology until MIDDLE SCHOOL is to allow children to use their imaginations – to dream about something they are passionate about; learn the basics, the building blocks, use their imagination to dream about playing soccer in the World Cup, or designing a bridge. This is the important distinction that we feel is so critical. We have students, who are drawing architectural blueprints, and then building set designs and model bridges using balsa wood, which can sustain hundreds of pounds of weight. They are using math, science, and design techniques to guide their imagination. In our 7th grade, we have students coding and programming. That knowledge will not be found designing models on Minecraft. Perhaps there are benefits from the spatial design tactics of using a tech app like Minecraft, but children will gain more from looking in a book to learning these crafts than on an iPad that will show them everything they need to do to make this structure – and when they try to create it themselves, at a latter date, they will be frustrated because it will not be as simple as using a device.
Again, we are in favor of using technology to research and help guide students beginning in 6th grade. However, we feel that using technology before the age of 12 is like giving a child the keys to a car. Most children simply do not take the responsibility of interchanging between mediums (books, articles, imagination, and technology) to have the ultimate benefit. Students at the Rudolf Steiner School, a New York City nursery through grade 12 Waldorf program, visit Central Park daily, and museums, historical places, and nature. We enable a child’s mind to dream big, and learn the building blocks of life. Then, at an appropriate age, we introduce them to technology, and teach them how to use it appropriately. What this does is enable a child to use technology to accentuate his/her mind and curiosity – not the other way around. Without the building blocks and the basis for how to use technology, children will always gravitate to the easiest solutions (passive observation such as YouTube, and game playing). There is a reason that Steve Jobs did not allow his children to use or own iPods and iPads. Jobs himself was a big dreamer, an idealist, a visionary, a philosopher. He read the great authors, and went to India seeking enlightenment. He allowed himself to sit and think without distractions.
I was perplexed by some of the rationalizations of the experts that the author cited. The CEO of Kidster allows her 14-month old to use tech and by allowing her to see tech being used in the household, “they’re modeling the benefits of technology.” A child of 14-months does not see the benefits of technology. At that age, they copy behaviors. That is also the case at ages 3-5. Her example is like allowing a child to sit in the driver’s seat of a car, playing with the steering wheel and how to accelerate, and showing her where the car keys are kept, but telling her not to use the keys to start the engine.
Finally, Mr. Mantel’s quote about curiosity toward technology was rather surprising. Yes, devices do rewire brain activity, but the reason that important associations like the American Academy of Pediatrics advocate for limited use of technology is because children are not using devices appropriately – it’s another form of dependency. Yes, well-rounded adults have the abilities to scan, sort, and synthesize short chunks of information as an important skill, but modern businesses are looking for big picture thinkers, and employees who can assess more. If we do not teach children how to think big, and use their imaginations, and learn public speaking, and giving presentations, we will continue losing a generation of robot-like thinkers who can program a computer, but haven’t read the classics or examined how great soccer stars like Messi overcame tremendous obstacles to become one of the greatest soccer players alive. It wasn’t from using the FIFA app. It was from practicing over and over and over again. This is the key distinction between an active and a passive lifestyle. The key is moderation for children of an appropriate age.