I’ve seen the game-boy, the pac-man, the e-children. I’ve watched their zombie eyes and the dull sullen responses when engaged. I’ve witnessed the drama of the ensuing parental attempts to detach them from their apparatus: iPods, PSPs, Gameboy DSs, and iPhones. Even Leapfrog has one now for the toddler crowd. I dread that one day there will be one of them in my house.
There is this sense of inevitability around electronics that I can’t seem to shake—that I will lose the lovely and wonderful relationship I currently share with my son. I know that change is inevitable, that he will grow apart from me in the way that 5 and 6 and 13 year olds do. He’ll become more and more independent just like he’s supposed to. Must I lose him prematurely though, to the fiendishly usurpatious beeping, buzzing, dissonant, bundle of chips and wire wrapped in a flashy black plastic case? Must I?
It saddens me to see comatose kids sitting in cars actively disengaging their siblings and parents; wired children encircling a table in a restaurant unimpressed with their dinner or the atmosphere or the company of family members; kids and gizmos locked in a dual with rabid monster droids that makes them only vaguely aware of the slides and swings and playground activities going on around them. There has to be a better way for parents and their children in this age of the digital-electronic-engagement.
I fear that my children will be attached to electronics, in a way that those of us of the rotary phone generation cannot comprehend. I wonder if the television was met with this kind of disdain when it was introduced. Establishing a domain in the most central location of the house—parked in living rooms nationwide—it supplanted sacred radio shows and conversations at dinner tables becoming the predominant source of entertainment. We’ve refused to consider buying one of those mini-vans with headliner DVD players, on principle. I remember being on car rides with my family, playing games with my siblings and watching the landscape pass by. I have a sense of nostalgia about those times. I would like my children to remember riding in the car destined for exciting vacations, travel to visit family, times well spent with each other. And if I have to be in the car with my kid, even for a long drive, then I’d rather have him sleeping, sitting in complete silence looking out the window, or asking a hundred million questions than have him glued to the back of my headrest tethered to a DVD player.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a TV guy. I have spent time with both of our boys helping them discover the wonders of the TV and its mesmerizing powers. Some of the best memories I have are watching DVDs together. But unlike the devices that I fear, the television is a static, stationary distraction that can be simply avoided. The devices, oh, the devices are portable, easily hidden in pockets or backpacks, simply pulled out at will, and our child is one quick flick of a switch away from zombie-boy.
Okay so I sound a little agitated about something that hasn’t even happened yet, but understand that I love my son. I don’t want to lose the interactions that we have now. He is cute beyond words. He has developed his own brand of humor making little two-year old jokes that are really quite funny. His communication continues to develop and we are able to carry on little father-son conversations now. I know ultimately they all grow up and assert their independence. I just wish independence didn’t include tuning out family in order to be entertained by some device.
Even now Lucas will only play with toys that light, whiz, whir or otherwise require electronics. When he sees a non-electronic toy, he immediately assumes that its batteries are dead. During a trip to a Toys-r-us recently to spice up his playroom, my little plugged-in boy grabbed a Hot Wheels car and repeatedly squeezed the package hoping to bring the metal and plastic toy to life, final exclaiming, “needs batteries!” In his short, little life, he has ignored blocks, model cars and action figures, eschewing such pedestrian toys.
Moderation—that’s what it will all come down to. Lucas will continue to grow and develop and we will embrace technology. He already has—he seems to be wired for it. At some point there will be battles waged over devices as there will be over TV or cookies or staying up late or any other thing that parents must regulate for the sake of their children. I will no doubt give in to the demands of my children recognizing that that is precisely what we all do. We figure out what is good or bad for them and try to tip the scales in our favor. We strike a balance between the thing that makes them happy and the thing that makes us happy and sometimes we may even discover that that may be one and the same.