Pleasantly Surprised Without Technology
Recently, my daughter brought home less than stellar grades. This was, unfortunately, something of a continuation of the year before; where she used to get the highest marks, we found her floundering. I decided to let the year finish and to take up the challenge of improved performance in the new school year with a fresh, clean slate.
Now, three weeks into our academic year, again we have some less than stellar grades. Because she is in third standard, we felt that our steps had to be more drastic and intentional this year. Thus, we banned outright all television watching and device usage. No iPads, no iPhones, no television, no computer that wasn’t for a class project. None of it. She could watch BBC News, sporting events that might be on, or documentaries. But “Fun TV” and fun device use was strictly forbidden.
Knowing that she had not performed up to her abilities, our daughter accepted her punishment without much complaint. The first couple of days were hard. She found herself staring into space a lot when she usually had a television to keep her company. Occasionally, she would lie on the floor and moan. But by day three something strange happened. She stopped wanting to watch TV. She didn’t care about her devices. She began reading more books, spending more time outside, and inventing games to play with her little sister. In short, she began to act like a normal child. Her grades have started improving as well.
I think for all parents this is an obvious if unspoken reality. We know in our bones that the technology our consumer culture pushes us to crave, and which connects our children to their world in amazing ways, has an increasingly more prominent dark side. The widespread use of technology devices affects the development of our children psychology, emotionally, and socially. The New York Times drives home this point in a recent column. As the Times notes, not only are devices distracting and distancing, but technology is even thwarting our children from forming socially healthy in-person relationships.
It’s not feasible, or even advisable, to live a ‘device-free’ life. However, more than ever we need to be vigilant as parents – because we are the front line, not Silicon Valley. Just this past week, Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire founder of Facebook, extolled the fact that access to the Internet could eradicate extreme poverty across the globe. He is typical of the Silicon Valley elite who push upon the public the idea that the disruptive force of technology is an unfettered good like no other. I have no doubt his is a sincerely held belief, and it rings true in some respects as the Internet is used to expand educational opportunities to even the remotest communities in the world. At the same time, a separate story about Zuckerberg reported that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel was caught pressing Zuckerberg about cracking down on racist and abusive behavior on the social network, her concern being the rise of neo-Nazi groups and hate speech on social media. He apparently replied, “We have to work on that.” Suddenly, we find Zuckerberg considerably less certain about his abilities.
What does this have to do with my daughter and her technology ban? Let me say this: I love technology. I spend a significant amount of my day immersed in it. I am grateful for the mobile computing revolution. But I also know that for our children, as their young brains develop, we need to be strong gatekeepers. Science and our own good sense tells us that technology is addictive to children. Forcing my daughter to quit her devices cold turkey restored her academic performance, sense of balance, and engagement with the world.
If you feel a pang of doubt, remember no less a disruptive titan than Steve Jobs forced his children to unplug and eat dinner without any devices present while they talked to one another as a family. If you haven’t done so before, I strongly encourage you to try a ‘cold turkey’ no-device-day to see what impact it has on your family. The results may very well pleasantly surprise you.