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Wednesday August 22, 2012

World (wide web) of parenting

This mother is in a dilemma over raising an iKid.

MY son has a new stock phrase that never fails to irritate me. “Mama, I have nothing to do,” he would say, followed quickly by a hopeful: “Can I play with your phone?”

We could be strolling in a park or shopping for groceries that is, doing something – yet my five-year-old would still be hungry for an electronic fix.

Not that he gets one very often. I let him play an app that is non-violent such as Cupcake Maker on my iPhone maybe once every other week, when I need to get him out of my hair for a spell.

And while he gets to watch some TV on weekends, we’ve managed to fend off most of his requests to play games or watch videos on our iPad.

But it seems Linksters, today’s youngest demographic slice that spends most of their waking hours online, are hardwired to be, well, wired.

More than once, I’ve found my cellphone or tablet temporarily out of action because he has hit the maximum number of attempts allowed to break the passcodes while I was out of sight.

I’m not sure how much longer I can hold out. And should I? Till when?

Much has been written about the physiological hazards that long-term use of blink-fast gadgets pose to young minds, from shortening attention spans to disrupting sleep patterns and breeding impatience.

They are rewiring our systems and warping our sense of reality for sure.

I’ve heard anecdotes of little ones who, upon seeing something they don’t much fancy, stick out their index finger to swipe away an offending page in a book, an image on the TV or even a breathing person in front of them.

Yet you also hear stories of preschoolers who have picked up useful things at lightning speed via digital interactions, from learning to read to cracking mental puzzles.

So while I want to shield my kids from the potential risks for as long as I can, the conflicted kiasu mum in me wonders: Will my son lose out if I go on barring him from mastering what have become everyday tools? Heck, schools are already adopting tablets to facilitate teaching and learning.

As a Gen-Xer who bought my first cellphone only when I was 24, I can be forgiven for being barely tech-literate.

But he is a digital native: Facebook and Twitter had already taken the world by storm when I had him in 2007. When his sister came along three years later, the first iPad and the iPhone 4 were about to hit the market.

Here’s the dilemma: Could withholding technology from iKids be akin to depriving them of oxygen? Are all electronic gadgets necessarily bad for them?

So while I deny my son access to the iPad, I just as quickly signed him up when his kindergarten began offering computer classes. These structured lessons under the supervision of a trained facilitator make a good compromise, I tell myself.

But I suspect they are also fuelling his need to be entertained constantly, hence his frequent gripes about being bored even when he has shelves of books, toys and puzzles at his disposal.

Didn’t we have to find ways to amuse ourselves when we were young? Isn’t that a kind of learning too?

But being weaned on a constant diet of vivid online stimuli is breeding a generation of passive media consumers who, experts fear, will find the real world dull by comparison.

In an article on children’s growing addiction to electronic devices in May, Australia’s The Canberra Times quoted Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University in the United States, as saying: “How can you expect the world to compete with something like an iPad 3 with a high-definition screen, clear video and lots of interactivity? How can anything compete with that?”

What may help in this fast and furious digital age is to hold on to some old-school parenting rules: practise moderation and set limits. No electronics at mealtime and bedtime, for instance. And when I say use it for 10 minutes, I mean just 10 minutes.

Because, really, there is no turning back.

American workplace expert Larry Johnson, who coined the term “Linkster” in a 2010 book he co-wrote with his daughter – Generations, Inc: From Boomers To Linksters – said of the generation born after 1994: “Their vocabulary lessons include words like terrorism and Google. The nice lady that gives you directions from your GPS is an icon for them and as trustworthy as a police officer.”

The other day, as I drove past the scene of a minor car accident on our way home, my son wanted to know what happened. I said I had no clue. “You go check the Internet later and tell me, okay?” he replied.

His trust in the World Wide Web is sure and complete. To him, a smart device is an unparalleled source of information and entertainment.

Just how should we raise the iGeneration? Perhaps I should Google the answer. – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network


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