Questions about tech and children

I like to use technology in education. But that isn’t any different than how I like to use technology in other aspects of my life. It’s a part of my life – in the classroom and out of it – and it is there to enhance whatever it is I want to achieve. But I make that choice, whether to use it or not.

The other day I was sitting in the waiting room at my chiropractor’s office, Dr. Paul Poirier at Earthway Family Chiropractic in Cornwall. As always, Jack was with me in his car seat. I was randomly flipping through a magazine and talking to a lovely lady sitting next to me when I noticed that Jack was craning his neck to see something. He was watching a slide show about back and foot problems that was showing on a tv in the waiting room. He’s 5 months old and I couldn’t break his gaze. Finally I got down right in front of him and showed him the magazine, which he did get very interested in, but it took a while to tear his attention away from the screen.

When I was breastfeeding every 20 minutes or so for the first 3 months of his life I spent a lot of time ensconced on the couch watching movies (had no actual tv plan at the time) and playing around online (google search – is it normal for a 3 month old to want to eat every 20 minutes? Is green poop normal?…) on the iPad I won through Etsy last summer. Once in a while I’d show a slideshow of black and white images that he’d try to touch and I’d giggle as he changed the size or image or whatever as he accidentally interacted with the iPad screen.

My son will obviously grow up with tech as a solid part of his life – it is a solid part of society and plays a large roll in his mother’s life. Even his father, self-proclaimed Luddite, just purchased a smart phone and is getting all geeky with his talk of megabytes and kilobytes per second and all.

The thing is, I hated watching him stare at that tv screen in the waiting room. I could understand that the flashing screen with its bright colours was fun to look at but I hated how hard it was to break his gaze. And I hated how that gaze seemed so empty.

The question is… (yes, finally getting to the point) … how do I (as a mother at home, as a teacher in the classroom) ensure that technology is used purposefully and not just something to stare at, to bemuse? I think the answer lies in modelling purposeful use of technology and sometimes the entertainment factor IS the purpose. But my mind keeps flipping back to his vacant gaze at that tv screen…


  • Tracy says:

    Hi Michael and thanks for your comment.

    Watching my little boy as he gets lost in the screen definitely underlines, at its most primal state, your phrase ‘the electronic milk’. Feeding him electronically results in unnatural consumption (duh).

    So, what was my purpose when the tv was on? For the most part of the first half of Jack’s life he was either eating or sleeping or trying to teach me what his cries meant. He was gaining weight in a less than desirable fashion and as a result I was ordered to get into bed with my son, feed him when he was hungry and sleep when he slept. And eat every 2 hours myself. Unfortunately, I had a hard time sleeping when he slept! So I started to watch movies and to reach out to the world via my online social networks – all helping to keep me sane through the first 3 months!

    Is it because of this he got lost in that slide show at the chiropractor’s office? Don’t know. I do know that he is attracted to bright colours, shiny objects, and rhythmic noises no matter where they come from. His eyes are much more full of life and curiosity when they come from me or one of the other humans in his life (or dogs!) so I do choose human over electronic interaction most of the time. Though the electronic interaction is there. Sometimes his mama needs to be entertained – this single parenting shtick can be hard at times ;) It usually happens in the late afternoon when he still wants to eat every hour or so. It’s nice to be able to camp out on the couch and watch a decorating show while he pops himself on and off of his food source :)

    So I’m answering my own question…it’s ok to ‘turn off’ with tech, as long as that is not all I do and that it is done when it is needed to be done (for my virtuosity ;) Sure there are other ways to ‘turn off’, not all are easy to do while juggling a 16 + pound weight and NOT injuring any important body parts during cluster feeds ;)

  • [H]ow do I (as a mother at home, as a teacher in the classroom) ensure that technology is used purposefully and not just something to stare at, to bemuse?

    The answer is in the question. Know your purposes, which is hard, especially if living matters to you.

    A vacant gaze reflects what’s going on, which is to say, not much. Why are we attracted to screens? Why are we attracted to nicotine and alcohol and, surreptitiously, death?

    Living the thoughtful life requires a lot of work. It gives a lot back, more than it costs, but this is not so obvious as it once was, when we were irrefutably connected to the land. (We’re still connected, but we’ve gone done buried the evidence.)

    The few people I’ve met who grew p away from electronic media are among the most interesting (and interested) people I know.

    Not saying I’ve succeeded in getting of the electronic milk. Just saying it’s well worth getting off.

    (Everyone says they can control it. I don’t believe it anymore.)

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