The headline I spied the other day read something to the effect of increasing internet safety measures. This didn’t surprise me given the fact that I searched “parenting” in Google News. What I did find shocking was the part of the headline that read “rise in 3-year-old internet users concerning.”
What the hell?
Long before I ever embarked on having children of my own, I found the sight of toddlers and young children using smart devices both highly annoying and completely absurd. I had one electronic device as a teenager that kept me distracted: a portable CD Walkman. I didn’t receive it until I was around 13 and I never once used it when I was out eating or shopping with my parents. Probably because as a toddler and young child I developed the social skills and patience to both eat and shop publicly without the need of an electronic distraction. Imagine that.
No, really, imagine a society in which parents actually want to interact with their children in public. Better yet, imagine a world in which parents want their children to interact with other people in a respectful fashion in a public setting. The other day I took my toddler out to a diner for lunch. Across from us sat a mother with two children, a 12-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy. The girl cooed over my son. The boy didn’t even look up from his video game device. Not once. Not even to look at the menu the waitress had handed him so he could select a meal his mother would pay for. You don’t need to acknowledge strangers, but you should at least be able to respect and show gratitude towards your own mother.
A contemporary toddler’s attachment to portable electronic devices is sick. These kids have social media accounts. They know how to pose for selfies, swipe screens and smack buttons before they can even tie their shoes, let alone read or write. Why? Because the same culture that bemoans the loss of male strength and the female obsession with body image (both a result of access to the internet via smart technology) is totally cool with the idea of silencing a toddler with a tablet and a data connection.
Parental hypocrisy is damning in more ways than one. Through simple interactions with my parents in stores and diners I learned how to ask questions effectively, make eye contact, converse socially, and speak to strangers respectfully. Most importantly, I understood that I was a loved and wanted part of my family. Instead of being handed a tablet and essentially told to shut up, I became an active participant in my parents’ daily life.
Every time I take my son out we talk about what we are doing. When a stranger waves at him, I encourage him to wave back and say hello. When he shows interest in an object we talk about what we encounter. And when we’re in a hurry I tell him as much as we go on our way. He doesn’t need a distraction because he’s part of the action. Relationships don’t begin when a child is old enough to suit your personal interest or immediate need. They begin at birth and thrive or die as the child grows. Want to save your kid from the evils of the internet? Don’t chalk them off to the realm of virtual reality.