26 Sep Too soon for Tech?
While recently spending the evening with my soon-to-be eight year old goddaughter, I asked her what she wanted for her birthday. Without skipping a beat she answered, “you can get me an iPad.” I stared at her thinking she would laugh and realize what an absurd request she had made, but she didn’t. After explaining to her that I didn’t even have an iPad, and that there was no way she was getting one from me, I asked her why on Earth she would actually need an iPad?. “Oh, there’s so much it can be used for,” she replied deadpan. Right then, I realized the true power of Mac marketing. “But you’re eight. Are you planning to do spreadsheets and case studies for work?” I asked. “Um no, I would play Words with Friends and watch movies on it,” she replied.
I went on to explain that an eight year old didn’t need a $500 birthday gift and that once upon a time, way back in the 80s, we actually played with human friends – as in face-to-face, when we wanted to play a game. While explaining this, I realized that I had become old and was now exactly like the adults that used to tell the “back in the day…” stories.
Since having the iPad conversation with my goddaughter, I ran across the findings from a survey by BlogHer.com and the Parenting Group on how Gen X and Gen Y moms are influencing their children with technology. The results weren’t surprising to me. Obviously someone has to be buying and advocating the use of the technology, and I’ve been to plenty of coffee dates with friends when the iPhone is pulled out and used as an instant babysitter. According to the research, the sweet spot of technology use for kids is around 11 for mobile phones, 16 for smartphones, four for laptops, and five for digital cameras. Twenty-five percent of moms let their kids use their mobile phone by age two— I’m surprised that statistic isn’t even higher.
I’ve thought a lot about kids and technology and how entertainment, games and the concept of “fun” has changed over the past 20 years and I suppose it really isn’t fair to say that this generation’s toys are different than those of the past. Our Teddy Ruxpin (a scary talking bear for those too young to remember) could be viewed as her Nintendo DS. Our My Little Ponies could be seen as her My FurReal Friends. The difference, in my opinion, is that these new toys interact with the user far more than my toys did. I would actually build houses and stables for my ponies in the yard with real human friends, instead of sitting in an air conditioned house staring at a screen. I have to wonder if the new generation of toys are contributing to the seeming lack of social skills (particularly conflict resolution) and the rise in social anxiety disorders in kids and teens.
The tricky part for the future will be balancing the two—technology with real imaginative play that helps in building social skills. Technology certainly has enhanced our lives and made it easier, but we can’t forget to go outside and to talk and play with other people face-to-face.
I still haven’t decided on the perfect gift for an eight year old, but it’s safe to say it won’t be an iPad. Not at least for this year.