Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Thumbs Down Fisher Price and More Thoughts on Technology

I heard recently that Fisher Price has introduced a special bouncy seat for young children that enables parents to attach an ipad to the seat so that young children (newborns and toddlers) can view videos or apps or even play games while sitting in their bouncy seats.


Infants and toddlers playing video games and watching movies while in their bouncy seats.

This makes my blood boil.

I was in a restaurant with the kids shortly before Christmas and saw a family at the table next to us where both parents were on their iphones and both of their children (boys, ages approx. one and four) were playing games on their own ipads.  They ate while playing with their gadgets.  I can't tell you how disturbed I was by that...I felt like going over to those parents and shaking them.

At the mall, I see parents and kids all the time sitting in the food court eating their lunches while playing games on their devices or thumbing/talking on the phone instead of with each other.

A few months ago on f/book, I read through comments posted by over twenty people who were discussing how many hours/day their two-, three-, and four-year old children were allowed on their ipads and in front of the tv.  More than a few parents said that when their second/third child was added to the family, they purchased an additional ipad so that each child could have his/her own.

What??  What is this world coming to?

Why don't we see how wrong this is?

Do I sound judgmental?  That's because I am.

I'm judgmental of myself, too, and a hypocrite to some degree.  I, too, have access to technology:
  • I have a great (albeit 3.5 year old) computer and I use it regularly, for blogging, emailing, and for researching stuff related to schooling the kids; 
  • after the kids have gone to bed, I might watch netflix on my computer or spend an hour researching or blogging; 
  • my Christmas gift this year was a new cell phone after my three-year contract with the worst phone in the world finally came to an end; 
  • I now text occasionally and my fingers have learned to push letters on that teensiest of keyboards.  I find texting a handy tool on occasion. 
But when I received my new phone in December, I asked my husband to tell me if he saw me doing the things I hate (ie. playing with my phone instead of engaging in the people around me, or doing a lot of texting/surfing/etc);  he was to tell me and I'd put myself on phone restriction.

Last Friday, I put myself on notice because I violated one of my own principles.  While I was chatting with a few other moms during our kids' music class, I left my phone on the table in front of me rather than in its usual spot in my purse; and when it rang, I interrupted our conversation to answer the phone.  The moment I answered it I felt a little sick...I still do.  The other moms I was sitting with were silent for that minute while I made plans with my sister for later in the day.  It was a completely non urgent call about something that surely could have been dealt with twenty minutes later, and it was disrespectful of the people I was talking with.  The other alternative would have been to let it go to voicemail and to later excuse myself from the room for a few moments so that I could deal with any message.  I am embarrassed by having taken that phonecall, and it was a needed reminder that my phone stays in my purse while I am in conversation with, well, people.

I don't have a problem with a phonecall if someone tells me that they are expecting a call and then briefly takes it; and I don't mind if people check to see who is calling because that's the emergency phone number for their kids.

But the kind of phonecall that I took last Friday was not ok with me.  Ironically, when I picked up the phone on that afternoon in the presence of those other moms, my sister's first words expressed her surprise (and delight?) that I was actually available and answering the phone; we spent the first 30 seconds of the call dealing with her shock.  Meanwhile, I was embarrassed that I had taken the call and wanted a do-over!

I'm fighting it, this urge to be connected to my technology in the ways I have described.  Despite its lure, I will not let myself be enslaved by the blatantly false message that I must be connected via my phone to the people in my life.  I hate it...and you're probably sick of hearing me say it by now.

With my kids, I'm at almost the opposite extreme of popular culture.  They have very little access to technology:
  • My boys (ages 8 and 9) both have ipods, but they are used (with permission) for audio books and music (all of which are ok'd/downloaded by me).
  • They watch tv and we do movie nights occasionally.  
  • We own two old-model Leapsters and four Dora/Spiderman/Lightning McQueen cartridges that the younger kids are allowed to play with during summer drives to the cottage or in an airport on route somewhere.
  • Lizzie has an 'old-fashioned' CD player in her bedroom with which to play her audio books and music CDs.
  • My older two are, very occasionally, allowed onto my ipad (which I regret buying because we don't use it enough to justify the cost) in order to watch, for example, a Rainbow Loom tutorial (Matthew) or to do a phonics exercise (Seth).  
That is the extent of the technology they're allowed.  My kids do not play video games, x-box/playstation, or whatever other games and gaming systems are out there.  I wouldn't be entirely opposed to (extremely) limited use of these kinds of devices; the problem I have with them is that they are so addictive and because they would never remain extremely limited and because it becomes another thing to have to manage.  Also, frankly, kids don't need them and it's often harmful.  I'm just not prepared to go down that road yet.

I'm often criticized for not allowing my kids onto technology...something that always surprises me.  There are people who think I'm a little crazy, or at least off base.  After all, Matthew is almost ten!  I am regularly cautioned that my kids will likely get crazy addicted when they finally get to use video games or have access to the internet.  The other thing I hear regularly is that my kids will be 'behind' their peers because they won't know how to use such devices or play those games.

I don't care.  As parents our job is to do what's in our kids' best interests despite what's going on in the world around us, and if it's true that my kids will be 'behind' when it comes to keeping up with the Jones', I'm ok with that.  After all, it might take an embarrassing nano second for them to catch up on all of the things they missed out on.

But maybe, as the other argument goes, my kids will simply be more addicted to technology once they're finally allowed to access it.

Again, don't care.  At least during all of their formative and critical early years they are free of those addictions and have had time to develop other interests and learn to play and talk to people.  I'm going to hang on to a technology-limited life, for my kids' sake, for as long as possible.

Lest you think I'm naive, I can assure you that I know the day is coming where my kids will access technology and play video games.  I really do know that.  And I have one (at least) child who will struggle with knowing when to put the device down and simply live real life face-to-face, and who will struggle with the lure of the technology this child is so drawn to.  In time, they will all learn to use technology for the wonderful tool that it can be and will play games, etc etc.

But for now, this is my gift to them:  To resist popular culture for as long as possible and to keep them addiction-free for as long as possible.

I am convinced that the younger children are exposed to gaming and other technology, the more likely they are to form addictions...during childhood and during later life.

Technology is addictive...it's that simple...even for adults who are supposed to be mature enough to handle these things, and how much more so for our children.  It's addictive for me, too, when the lure of my computer presses upon me.

One person asked me just a couple of weeks ago what my children do all day without playing video games, etc etc.

I laughed.  In my head.

What do they do?

In addition to (very) minimal schooling, they play.  They play inside.  They play outside (even in -35 degree weather, and by their own choice).  They build forts, both inside and outside.  They create toboggan runs outside and cushion slides inside.  They play (non video) games.  They draw and do crafts and create art and use paper towel tubes to make slides for their teddies and large styrofoam sheets to create houses for their stuffies.  They wrestle.  They are read to and are learning to read for themselves as well.  They watch movies and some tv...and from time to time we'll enjoy at day at home of mostly tv watching, and that's ok.

Sometimes my kids are bored, too.  And that's a-ok with me.  Whenever they're bored, their first request is always to watch tv, and I say no in those moments, because they simply don't need to be entertained in order to escape boredom.  From my perspective boredom is a futility experience that they need to experience on a regular basis in order for them to learn that they can (and will) survive feelings such as boredom...and even thrive as a result of it.  Some of the kids' most creative endeavours are the result of boredom.

Over time, my kids will all be exposed to technology and we'll be faced with learning how to deal with it.  But that time has not yet arrived and so we don't yet have to grapple with those issues.  I'm aligned in spirit with the university professor we met on an airplane several years ago who, when he heard that we were h/schooling, encouraged us to keep our kid(s) as far away from technology as possible, for as long as possible.  He expressed profound sadness over how technology exposure had numbed his students and prevented them too often from engaging in life.  He expressed great conviction that the technological skills kids need when they're older can be picked up very easily when they ultimately need it.  And research, at least the stuff I've read, bears that out.

Please, could we say no to Fisher Price products that introduce babies and toddlers to gaming?  Surely what we need in this world is more relationship skills, not more thumbing skills.


  1. Hi Ruth,
    You're preaching to the choir here, as you probably know. I live in a bit of a granola bubble where your kind of approach would be the norm. A group of us were just discussing where we could go together to watch some of the Olympics. I'm grateful that in the homeschool world, I don't think we're unusual, so there's less pressure for our kids. I'm most concerned about how much time I spend on the computer! Bad mama! :)

    1. Yes, T, you are definitely a fellow choir member! And I also agree that it's (far?) easier in the h/school world b/c it seems like there are more like-minded families within this community, and b/c our kids aren't confronted with it every hour at school.

      And yeah, I am also guilty of spending too much time on the computer, especially in the evening or early morning before the kids are up. It's easy to do, even for us adults. And simultaneously, I'm so thankful for things such as internet access which has made schooling at home sooooo much easier!

      Talk soon. Ruth

  2. Another member of the choir here!
    I started getting upset a few years ago when seeing adds for strollers with built in speakers for hooking up the iPod for the little one to listen to music while simultaneously starting down the road to environmental hearing loss - the poor infants/toddlers couldn't even escape the music and protect themselves!
    My "poor" C is starting to get a little upset that despite writing a request every year that he get a gaming device for Christmas "just like everyone else has" and it still has not materialized. We have had many conversations about this and priorities, but there is that peer issue. And if you want to get me started, ask me about bringing entertainment devices to school. We are still dealing with the fallout of C watching totally inappropriate videos on friends' players in the fall (and quite frankly inappropriate for adults too!).
    But yes, I am a proud member of the choir, but even the choir needs to listen to the sermon for some personal growth. ;-)
    And will the kids be watching the Olympics?

    1. Hello fellow choir member.
      I just responded to Martha's comment below and echo the same thing to you - that I particularly admire your limiting of technology given that your C is in the public system. Amazing.

      I've never even heard of this built-in speaker thing for strollers...that's horrid!

      I can't imagine how awful - to find out what C was watching on someone else's device...and to still have to be dealing with it months later. That's always one of my fears, too. I'm so sorry he has to live with seeing something so inappropriate.

      What ARE kids allowed to bring to school? What are they allowed into the classroom?

      And yes, we'll be watching some of the Olympics, for sure. I plan to download the schedule today so that we can talk about what we'd like to watch. I imagine some of it will be impossible because we'll be out and about most days and we don't have any recording device (eg. PVR, etc). But absolutely we'll be watching some. We'll also work into our watching some of the history of the Olympics, etc.

      Have a great day, Ellen!! Hugs,


    2. In our school board, technology and "bring your own device" (for learning, officially) is encouraged. What I am finding is happening in many classrooms, including Cody's, is that personal devices are out almost as babysitters during lunch and snack breaks. Based on our home experience, I have started to really to limit in my own classroom when they are used and we have a "use/view your own device only" policy. I know different parents have different thresholds and quite frankly so do kids. C was ok, or caught up in the peer aspect, during the day, but once nighttime came he just could not cope with what he had seen. Do a search for "Slender man" and you'll see why any child should not have access to this, let alone a child with a past that includes trauma. I quite frankly do not understand why anyone would expose their child to something like that (and I am assuming that the exposure to the sharing child was at home, either by a parent/adult or older sibling). I will add that Cody's teacher was very understanding when I expressed my concern and has addressed appropriate viewing and gaming with the class. But ain't remain frustrated with society, or whatever part of it, for thinking that this is ok to show our kids. In our family, this really set us back a good couple of years in coping with fear and anxiety.
      As for the ridiculous stroller, I don't think I've seen the add in the last couple of years. Maybe, just maybe, it was not a high seller. But I know I have seen speakers attached to really ridiculous baby gear lately.
      Blessings to you and yours!

    3. Ellen, I just looked up Slender Man and can totally see why that would be a terrible (!) thing for a child to watch - ANY child, but particularly one with a trauma past. Poor C!! I'd never heard of that 'legend' before but can see why that would set you back significantly in all of your work with C. I'm so sorry that happened, and I'm glad at least that his teacher was responsive.

      Given that you're not entirely able to control which devices kids are allowed to bring into your classroom, I think the 'use/view your own' policy is about the best you can do - and it sounds reasonable under the circumstances.
      I heard just recently (from a high school teacher) that in some/many high schools these days, teachers teach for 20 minutes and then give kids a 5 minute time slot to text/make calls, etc; then they teach for 20 minutes and offer another 5 minute window for social media stuff. Wow. I wish technology could be banned altogether from the classroom...check it at the door and pick it up again at the end of the day.

      Glad to hear that maybe, just maybe, the stroller died..let's hope the ipad-equipped bouncy chair follows suit.


    4. Did I really type "ain't" ??? I am not sure I like automatic spelling options. Tough to get used to some aspects of technology.

    5. Yeah, I caught that! Nice to know someone else makes mistakes, too...sometimes I look back at a blog post I wrote and cringe at a word or grammar that I used!


  3. Hi Ruth
    I have been casually following your blog since a few years and want to let you know that you seem to be doing a great job with your kids.
    I have never come across a post on technology that is reflecting so exactly my thoughts on this matter. I wish you lived closer to me so that our kids could play together.
    My kids do not have any video games that they play at home except the few my husband put on his iPod , nor do they watch TV. They seem to be coping fine . Even though they go to school , they are now resigned that I will not budge on the subject. It frustrates me to no end when my son goes to play with his friends and all they do is sit in front of a screen...

    1. Hi Martha, and thanks for being here and for commenting!!!

      Thank you for your kind words, too.

      I take my hat off to you, Martha, limiting technology the way you do. You absolutely have a harder job of it than I do because your kids are in school and exposed to what their friends are into on a daily basis. Although my kids are 'up' on what's out there re: video games, etc, they're not as confronted by it on a daily basis because they're not in school. I was thinking just yesterday evening about how I'd be able to do what I'm doing re: technology stuff if my kids were in school, and thinking about how much harder it would be...then I saw your comment and was blown away. Good on you!

      Ironically, yesterday, the same day I wrote this post, my eldest (who is not of an addictive personality at this point) came to me and said that he wished he had the latest ipod, like his cousin. In conversation about that, I asked what he might wish he could do with such an ipod and he said that he'd love to try making a stop-action movie, with a music background and words written on the pictures, etc.
      We had a discussion about it and he'd given some thought to what he wished he could do. I responded by saying that this was something that might benefit from some technology and I gave us each some homework. My job is to look into what app is needed to do this kind of project and I will download it onto my phone, which I will allow him to use when he's ready to film his movie. His job is to begin working on the story and characters and music that he'd like to present in movie format. This is the kind of stuff that I'm ok with as he gets a little older because it brings out genuine creativity on his part, and requires him to plan and write, etc etc. This is the second or third time he's approached me on this subject in the past two months and so I also know that it's not a fleeting notion on his part.

      ANyway, I forget that I'm not writing another blog post here and am long-winded - sorry! I'm so glad something resonated with you, Martha.

      And yes, I would love it if our kids could play together too!!

      Blessings coming your way,


  4. Hi Ruth,
    AMEN! We limit access to technology in our home. Our two came from the foster home where watching hours and hours of tv with little supervision every day was normal. When we were in Ethiopia with them we unplugged the tv in our room. We told them they would not be watching a lot of tv in Canada and in fact were not allowed to watch unless given permission. Our son thought this was terrible :-) We pvr specific tv programs for them to watch so we control the content. What I find most interesting is that they rarely ask to watch tv! There are so many fun things to do and we spend lots of time together as a family so they are engaged with real people. We do have family night game/movie night and play Wii together for 1 hour. It is soooo addicting for kids. They get very excited and can get a bit crazy so that is an easy reminder to us to limit gaming access. I see both of them having the potential to easily be drawn into the world of games and computers and losing their ability to interact well with others. So far our son has not commented on not being allowed access to tv or the computer often. They have just started school at our local public school so we'll see how that impacts them.

    1. Hey Allison -
      I've been wondering how things are going for you - nice to hear from you! I hope you're well and adjusting!!

      What an adjustment the kids had to go through, from hours of tv/day to very limited - but good for you - particularly given the background that they have this is so important. Good on ya!!

      Let me know sometime how things are otherwise going - I'd love to hear more.



  5. Hi Ruth – I thought I might throw in a different perspective on this discussion. While I totally agree that electronics have no place around babies and toddlers, I do think there is an acceptable way for older children to use them that is not completely “mind-numbing”. We have more permissive views about use of electronics in our house but we still have limits as to the amount of time that can be spent on them and what types of games / viewing that are acceptable. Both my kids (8 & 9) received mini-IPads from their grandparents this Christmas, so I found that I really needed to think about what was “good” use of electronics. This is what I came up with:
    • There are rules about where and when the electronics can be used and how much time they can spend on them. They also have to make sure that they have taken care of their daily jobs before they use them (ie., room tidied, homework done etc.)
    • Certain types of games will never be allowed (violent or shooting type games) and games must be age appropriate. Dad controls the password for downloading of games or shows, so all “transactions” are approved by him.
    • Texting can be great fun and is good spelling practice! The kids only text our family members and my daughter has one friend with whom she also texts. My daughter loves to send me texts at work when she gets home from school and I love to receive them. She also loves to send text messages and text pictures to Grandma. Grandma is totally into it as well and loves receiving these from her granddaughter.
    • “Facetime” can be awesome! It isn’t much different than making a phone call, but being able to see the other person and where they are can be so much fun! A few weeks ago my daughter was missing her best friend who was away on vacation. We were able to Facetime her and the friend spent nearly an hour chatting with us, showing us the fun things at her hotel and telling us about what she had done on her vacation. I remember thinking how cool it was that we could do this and that it did not cost anything! (Grandma also loves doing “Facetime” with the kids. Especially when she is away or we are travelling.)
    • One of the games that my son especially loves is called “Minecraft”. It is a really creative game where the kids build their own worlds and the can join other players in their world. I like this game because they usually play together and it is very interactive for the kids.
    • Both kids love to listen to music and watch music videos. I like the fact that they can decide what kind of music they like on their own without the influence of Mom and Dad’s playlists.
    • The IPad’s get used quite a bit for creating videos and taking pictures. I have to admit the kids have taught me a few things about features on the camera that I had no idea existed. They can do some really creative things.
    • We have a 3 hour ride to the cabin (each way!) There are only so many games of eye spy, hangman and the geography game that you can play. I will admit the electronics are a welcome distraction on these trips.
    So there are some of my thoughts and rationale on the technology issue. If I am being totally honest there are a few things that I myself find my IPhone very useful for (staying in touch with the office, online shopping etc). I even enjoy a few apps – “My Fitness Pal” in particular and I love to play Sudoku and SpellTower when I am stuck waiting somewhere (like doctors’ waiting rooms). I do have to be careful though, I can get carried away in a game of SpellTower and end up staying up way too late because I can’t put it down!

  6. Hey Tracy -
    Thanks for chiming in! Lovely to hear from you!!

    Your management of technology sounds quite similar to the management I will likely have some day when we're at that point. I've heard of f/time (in fact, I think I have it on my new phone, though I haven't tried it yet...maybe I will now!) and it sounds like a good alternative...sounds kind of like Skype, actually.
    I've also heard of Minecraft, which seems like a definite plus amongst video games...I'm sure my kids will, one day, enjoy it.
    And I laughed when I read about the trip to the cottage - although our drive is only 90 minutes each way, I totally get that there are only so many games one can play...some of those drives seem hours in lengths rather than 90 minutes!

    Last week I used my new phone to find a Michael's 40% off coupon so that I could buy a crafty gift for my niece...I have to say it was rather handy having the ability to do that...and I couldn't have done it with my old (stinky) phone. :)

    It sounds like you've done a great job of managing the technology in your home. When we're at that point, I can well imagine coming back to your comment and revisiting the structure you've provide.

    Thanks again. I hope all's well in your end of the world!!



  7. Oh Ruth,
    I just had to add a little story here. Yesterday my younger son asked if he could play a game on my computer. I said yes, he had 20 minutes, and that when he was done, we'd practice his reading. He was fine with that. Much less enamoured of technology, my older son said, "I don't want any computer time, so can I also just skip having to learn anything today?" Too funny! Another homeschooling success story! ;)

  8. Hi Ruth! Great post and another choir member here. Both our boys (9&11) got iPods for christmas this year and I made them sign a contract before they could use them. So all the expectations (i.e. limits) were crystal clear from the outset and the mechanism exists to remind them that they agreed to it all. It's working pretty good, but as they get older it gets harder and harder (they would play Minecraft all day and all night if I let them loose). To their friends at school, our family seems totally backwards, but - as you say - I don't care.

    1. Thanks Sandy - lovely to hear from you!

      Interesting idea re: the contracts....though not surprising, given your line of work, that you'd want to make expectations clear! :)

      It's tough being a little 'backwards' in these things but I just continue to think that there's really little doubt that what's in the best interests of our children is very limited exposure to technology. We as parents who have to brace ourselves for the backlash!

      Thanks for joining the conversation.