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November 5, 2015

Left to their Own Devices: Kids & Mobile Technology.

Kevin Jarrett/Flickr

One of the best jobs I ever held was being a Waldorf School teaching assistant.

Whenever I was asked what a Waldorf School was and what made it different from other schools, I would inevitably answer, “We don’t have computers, tablets or other electronic devices in the classroom.”

Usually, I would get two very different reactions: “Cool! What a great idea!” and, “Really?! How do those kids learn anything?”

As both a teacher and the parent of a child who attended the school, I always thought it was my job to clear up popular misconceptions, the most frequent being that Waldorf education means being against technology. As I explained, it isn’t. (A high number of the kids who attended had parents who worked as computer programmers or software developers.)

Rather, there was a feeling that there was a time and place for technology like computers, tablets and other electronic devices, and that that time wasn’t early childhood.

Even though many would nod in agreement with this statement, there was still the unspoken belief that, somehow, these kids were missing out and the well-meaning adults, despite having their hearts in the right place, were only delaying the inevitable.

However, it turns out there may be a good reason to limit screen time, if only because a growing number of children under five are using these devices and being left largely on their own.

A recent article in The New York Times reports:

A small survey of parents in Philadelphia found that three-quarters of their children had been given tablets, smartphones or iPods of their own by age four and had used the devices without supervision.”

While the article makes it clear that this “was not nationally representative,” it does note that, “experts say the surprising result adds to growing evidence that the use of electronic devices has become deeply woven into the experience of childhood.”

Among the more shocking things, some of these children were as young as six months old. Placating the child was a frequent reason for doing this.

Lest anyone think I am shaming people who have ever done this, I’m not. When my older child was five months old, I would play the opening credits to the TV series Mad Men over and over again when she was having a particularly hard time settling down. (There was something about that animated opening that soothed her like nothing else would.) When I shared this, I got some pretty interesting looks to say the least.

I’m not ashamed now and I wasn’t then.

However, there is difference between occasionally using a computer, smartphone or tablet to soothe or entertain a child and using these devices on a regular basis.

The latter, at the very least, takes away valuable one-on-one human interaction.

They can also interfere with sleep if used during bed time. (Pediatricians say they are too bright to allow a child to fall asleep.)

While I have my opinions about children and screen time, it is ultimately up to each parent to decide how much—if any—screen time is appropriate for their child.

Still, we need to act as monitors. As for all of us adults, there are plenty of things out there that aren’t meant to be seen by children.

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Relephant Read:

Belonging, Nature, Childhood & Technology.

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Author: Kimberly Lo

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: Jenny Downing/Flickr // Kevin Jarrett/Flickr

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