This is my response to a recent and very backward thinking article published on the Huffington Post - Parenting Blog (written by Cris Rowan) titled 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12.
For now, I'll do my best to put aside my absolute disdain for government or overly-nosy people butting in our day-to-day lives dictating every nuance like how we raise our kids. I'll instead attempt to focus more on the article's horrendous attempt to justify an all out ban on all handheld devices for children under 12. The author references a collection of statements from other sources, many of which seem to depend on word play, FUD and conjecture. I'd like to respond to several of those statesments.
Statements like "...with serious and often life threatening consequences..." are not followed up with examples, cases or any reasoning. I should simply respond with: Technology brings family and people of all walks of life closer together (across distances of the house, the city, the country or the word) and saves countless lives through emergency calling, GPS tracking etc. But if you know me at all, I can't stop there. What follows are responses to many of the quotes used in the Huffington Post article and a plea for parents to not fear technology left in their children's hands. Especially its uses in education and development. Instead I'd implore parents to share and endorse the use of technology with your children.
Anyone who advocates banning something really has to work hard to convince me that there's no room for error. Pushing to "ban the use of all handheld devices for children under the age of 12 years" encompasses so many important use cases that I can't even begin to express here. As someone who has been using technology literally since I can remember, and as someone who has witnessed the power of devices to help disabled or challenged individuals, I feel I am qualified to respond to this article.
Research-based eh? Evidence based goes a lot further with folks like me. Quoting websites and other articles doesn't begin to make your point more valid, and it is unfortunately a common tool used in debates by some people. I recall recently experiencing this during the Debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham on Creationism. Basing your points on quotes from others is akin to crying out, "See!!! He said it too, so there you have it! My point is more valid now!" No. It simply means you can perform Google searches to find phrases that could fit your agenda. Give us evidence instead; verifiable examples.
Really? Guess again. Take a look at the education market and watch for those teachers that are engaging, creative and inspirational; the ones who are connecting with their students. Many use modern technology to make this happen. By the way, remember those old over-head projectors or TV's being wheeled into the classroom? Hell, even a pencil is technology depending how 'technical' you want to get. The phrase "technology is detrimental" is an affront to education really. Technology is simply a tool. How you use it to convey an idea is up to you either as a parent or as a teacher.
I'll stick with using myself as an example, but I can think of many others who would also work just as well. I consider myself rather accomplished already and my career is well on its way. I don't say this to brag, but rather to aid in building to my point that VERY early use of technology has become a focal point allowing me to hone my professional and social skills and use these skills to develop a successful career.
I built my first computer somewhere around the age of 10 and I remember as a child well before the age of 12 learning to use DOS or understanding how a mouse worked (with those trackballs and rollers etc.), or how phosphor was shot with electrons to make pixels on a monitor light up! Was this detrimental to my learning and development? Was my future doomed!? My brain destroyed?
No. Not at all. In fact, I later found "my calling" so to speak when I recognized the pure excitement I would experience while sharing my understanding of technology with anyone who would listen!
As a college professor I had opportunities to guide those who shared my interests! Through my day-to-day life I always attempt to share and convey excitement and wonder of sciences and technology to anyone around me. Even writing this article proves my point! I have learned to write in multiple programming languages so that I may produce my own platform to share my thoughts with whomever is willing to read it! Early use of technology was detrimental to my learning? No, I was writing HTML by the age of 12! Imagine if I was banned (by law) to use handheld devices or if my use of technology were limited to the degree the author proposes.
Ok, I'll give you that. I didn't dive into the source to vet it, but I'll go with it for now. But to respond to this statistic with a ban on a specific technology is downright insane. That doesn't answer the problem of parents not supervising or understanding their child's use of technology.
Parents ought to be supervising, engaging and sharing their child's exploration of technology! My father played a pivotal role in my childhood by simply sitting there beside me, both of us actively engaged in pure curiosity. I can't tell you the number of father son moments that occurred while peering down at a motherboard pointing at each component. I'm sure my face was almost frozen with that look of astonishment and wonder. I would soak up everything he said and try my best to make sense of it all. The point about parents not supervising is a good point, but it does not mean we ban the technology! Parents should be playing an active role!
Ok. Again I am not going to demand the evidence here; I should, but I simply don't think this statement or the evidence that may be behind it points to technology being the fault here. Staying up reading a book, getting lost in a drawing or painting, or listening to a radio show are all possibilities too! Even right now, I stay up writing this response rather than getting a more solid amount of sleep for work in the morning. The stimulus used to avoid sleep is separate from the issue of staying up beyond a reasonable bed time!
Sleep deprivation is an extremely common issue in our culture and at ages 9 or 10, consider the numorous realities that start to fall in line. Physical attributes start to matter, maybe they're grasping with the concept of death, or recognizing troubled relationships (their own or parents etc). I suspect parents should be trying to help their child avoid this affliction. Developing proper routines and recognizing the value of sleep is something parents can help to develop in their children. Again I don't feel the quote is directed at the use of technology; rather the inabilty of children to recognize limits and of parents for not setting those limits reasonably.
Frustrating articles can cause feelings of aggression as well! Recognizing that I can use my words and experiences to convey the ridiculousness of something rather than resort to violence is again a process that can be developed through proper parenting.
You should know, at the innocent age of 6, I was killing Nazis with machine guns in the totally realistic graphics of 1992's Wolfenstein 3D by id software. Now, honesty, I don't recall having the urge to grab a weapon when seeing a Nazi uniform in a museum as a school kid on a field trip! Hell, I play MineCraft at my present age (a game targeted to all ages that inspires creativity and adventure) where the player can jump off giant cliffs into the ocean (or miss if you want I guess), kill animals for food, or kill zombies with a sword. Do we see kids running off cliffs or hunting zombies after crafting their own weapons?! No!
Through a combination of our evolved empathy and morality, as well as through social situations like school, childhood friendships or sibling interactions, children develop empathetic responses that hinder violent actions.
We simply don't see any evidence that video games inspire violence even when that violence is graphically portrayed. Kids can see the difference (see: Penn & Teller's BS episode on Video Game Violence). In cases where a child has caused harm to another based on what they see in the movies, on TV, in a book, or in video games, I believe there would exist other mental disorders or disabilities that have hindered their empathy or emotional responses and the issue is therefor not directly related to their use of video games (unfortunately I don't have any particular cases as examples here). I suspect our culture would be a far more random and violent one by now if we were all training ourselves to brutally kill based on our actions when we played shooter games as kids.
Ah yes, of course the article would bring up the old cell phone and wireless device radiation scare. Yup, these devices use non-ionizing radiation to transmit/receive their data. Radiation is also used by your table lamp, your AM/FM clock radio, or even the candle you read your books by. Actually out of all of those, the radio would emit the least (since it simply 'reads' the radiation in the area around it). Radiation is even emitted from your body! The amount, the frequency, and the intensity all contribute to the potential threat. That, and some evidence. ANY evidence. To date, zero evidence has been found to prove cellular or Wifi frequencies cause damage to humans or other animals. And studies have been done. Many studies, all coming back without conclusive evidence to support this fear.
Sure, "Children are more sensitive to a variety of agents ... as their brains and immune systems are still developing" but nothing has yet shown electromagnetic radiation at the power or frequency of cellular or Wifi devices to be among those agents. If you're worried, OK, don't take the risk! But know that frequencies far more intense are radiating through your body right now and have been all throughout your childhood. Over the Air TV signals, GPS, terrestrial radio and countless other natural signals from the universe are all piercing your body and mind right this second with no proven ill effects.
Well, I beg to differ. My future has always looked bright. Ok, there was a dull stage for a bit there, due to bullies and so forth, but now those bullies look to me when they need help with their technology so... yeah. I have always been and continue to develop better ways to use, understand and share technology, and because of this, I've invested in my career opportunities and in my future. Understanding forms of technology was not simply an instinct of mine that I was born with. It was developed over years of trial and error and education starting well before the age of 12.
Oh, and a quick point to make on the communication side of things before I forget. Consider that I had developed friendships with other people my age from around the world long before I knew what cultural boundaries, racism or prejudice of any kind even were! I mean I was learning to program from a friend in Israel! Technology allowed us to communicate and share ideas, developing practical skillsets.
In my opinion, it's a terrible travesty to deprive kids at ANY age the advantages of technology, its educational value, communicative capabilities and its ability to inspire kids to create and discover the world. Oh, and government intervention to dictate the use of technology in private homes is even more appalling to me! But that's another article for another time :P