Our Plugged-In Kids

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Photo by Jessica Rodger Yim

Three-year-old plays with her mother’s iPhone while waiting for the grown-ups to stop chatting and move on.

I have been thinking about children and their relationship to today’s electronic devices. Several of my friends are of the opinion that small children should be denied use of these devices so that other aspects of their development, e.g., physical and social, are not compromised. I have pretty much pooh-poohed this as an argument put forth by people who are, perhaps, too resistant to change.

How we handled the introduction of TV into our culture might be a point of comparison (remembering that all analogies break down sooner or later).With TV there was worry about eyestrain, accompanied by advice not to sit too close to the set. Even now, responsible adults do not want their children to spend too much time watching TV for the same reasons they object to over-use of our newer electronic devices.

However, computers and cell phones have an advantage over television: they are inter-active. Instead of passively watching TV, a kid on a phone or other device will often be interacting with a friend, chatting or playing a game.

My relaxed attitude about electronic devices comes from the idea that our kids are entering a future which will incorporate electronics in ways we can hardly imagine. Changes keep coming at an ever-increasing rate. Therefore, the more experience kids have with electronic devices, the better prepared they are for an emerging new culture.

However, the more I read about the opposite point of view, the more I thought that there may be something to it. The points made in articles are laced with weasel words – it MAY do this, or that COULD happen, or it creates a POTENTIAL for. But one thing that seemed more grounded in fact was the assertion that the radio frequency radiation from cell phones affects the brain, at least for a short time. The National Institute of Cancer recognizes that certain radiation causes cancer, but says that, other than heating, radio frequency radiation has not been found to have any effect on the body.

So it has been difficult for me to come down hard on one side or the other. However, I have faith in human adaptability. TV has been incorporated into our lives, and electronic devices are in that process now. Most people will manage to juggle use of electronics with all the other demands life puts upon us. 

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