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Technology And Toddlers

This has been long on my ‘have to blog about’ list. Somehow, I did not have the time or the energy to pen down the thoughts that have been bubbling effervescently in my head ever since I stumbled upon an online discussion on one of the forums on Facebook. The debate was about kids and technology – whether we should them to get too cozy with technology. And if yes, how much?

Now, such debates are more on contentious lines. And rightly so! In the forum, some said technology is not just a convenience but a necessity. Some felt, it is a boon. And, then some felt it was overhyped. If there are some gazillion articles on why introducing technology to toddlers at such a tender age ‘is detrimental to their emotional, mental and physical growth’, there is an equal number of articles refuting the same. The forum had mothers battling over this topic wherein, opinions were thrust and a line was drawn between the mothers who adored technology and the ones who abhorred it! I do not like to participate in litigious topics, where there is no ‘one stop solution’ to any challenge. However, I do have my thoughts about technology and its influence on our children.

My son is moving towards 5. And, ever since he comprehended technology in his own way, I am glad that he is nowhere addicted to it. For instance, he is averse to using phones, tablets despite no restrictions on him. Let’s say, he is more of an outdoor person (Thanks to fauj, our children prefer to love nature more than technology and gadgets!) That said, I don’t mean he doesn’t watch TV or movies. But, he has his choices. He loves watching stories from epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, Panchatantra tales and the other English fables like – Jack and the Beanstalk, David and Goliath, Rapunzel, Snow White and Seven Dwarfs et al. He hears these stories on a regular basis in his slotted half an hour time every day. As far as television is concerned, he loves Discovery, NatGeo and Animal Planet.

However, given that he cannot quite sit at one place for a long time, TV is not a necessity for him. Hence, he is not quite keen on watching cartoons. Not that he hates them. But he just chooses to watch Motu Patlu once in a while. To put it crisply, watching cartoons is his last resort of killing boredom. Occasionally he watches Food Safari and MasterChef Australia with me. Like, once he quipped – “Mom, when are we visiting Australia?” I asked him, “Why Australia in particular?” to which prompt came the reply – “All the good food seems to be made there. That is why!” Toddlers can sometimes, spellbind you with their understanding.

Anyways, I am digressing by habit. So, when it came to my son, he voluntarily chose his source of entertainment and, its means. For instance, he loved to be out in the garden or on the terrace. In the last few stations where we lived in, we had quarters on the first floor, wherein he would happily cycle away to glory. Intermittently, he would jump with joy whenever he spotted parrots, sparrows, woodpeckers, bumble bees and squirrels. But then, learning with technology was also a part of his routine, though it took a miniscule fraction of his whole routine. Both hubby and I have ensured that TV and Rhyme time was a prize earned only after he followed his routine well. Now, the crucial question arises – Is technological exposure a necessity for a toddler?

Well, even if I am a modern day parent, I am religiously old school about parenting. For me, handing over a tablet to a toddler for educational or recreational purposes seems to be more of a means of seeking respite than, actually bonding with the concept of it. And, I have my reasons to believe so.

1. Firstly, a tablet/smartphone is more of a convenience for a parent than filling in the actual purpose of learning for a toddler. For instance, animated numbers, dancing alphabet and prancing shapes amuse children (I don’t disagree) but, these cannot be a substitute for alternative learning means. Besides, once a child starts to walk, he or she must be introduced to the lovely hues of nature like beautiful sunrises and sunsets, bird songs, vehicles zooming around, aeroplanes flying in the sky, the amazing formations of retreating birds before dusk, the mesmerizing shapes formed by the strangely aligned clouds and, the routine that defines life for the world. This part of the growing experience for a child can never be replaced by whatever ‘magic’ technology claims to wield!

2. Many parents claim that they have trained their toddlers about the time duration and all. This theory does not apply to all parents or children despite the fact that it sure works for some. Like, no two children are the same, no two parents are same too! Besides, if Parent A brags about his child having super self control, it does not mean that Parent B’s child is unruly. It only means, the two children have differently aligned thought processes. Now, it is the parent’s job to understand his child’s learning curve. This can be done if either of the parents or, an elder in the house spends sufficient time with the child. After all, human company is priceless. It cannot be substituted by ‘play and learn activities’ that your smart gadgets offer these days.

3. Smart phones and Tablets come with parental control facilities that claim to protect the child from the perils of Internet. Even then, there have been unfortunate incidents in the West wherein, children have become vulnerable to online predators. And even if you claim to be a vigilant parent, ‘How much and how far can your caution protect your precious toddler?’ remains an unanswered question.

As a parent you must understand that your child is growing. And, he is growing fast. Sooner or later, he ought to be spending equal or more time with his peers and, he is sure to learn things his way. So, it is crucial that you do not rely solely on technology and its self claimed means of protection from predators. Make sure you channelize your child’s interest in a way that getting hooked to a video game or an app in the tablet might as well be the last thing on your child’s agenda and it does not become something he cannot sustain without. If it is scratched off the list – Even better, I say!

As humans, we are conflict prone beings. The proof lies in how one generation perceives the other. Like some may find our parents’ means of parenting to be quite archaic and feel that parenting needs to evolve too. I say – absolutely, but not without imbibing some wisdom from the old parenting methods. Gone are the days of chalk and slate, dough and grains! In this technological era, everything is turning digital. Is it good? Yes, in a way. Sometimes, I wonder if only Google had arrived in my schooling years, I would have learned a lot. But then, who knows? And for me, Internet happened when I was a twelfth grader. So, pretty much of my school life was spent in reading books (academic ones included).

Now, books have been replaced by e-books. Group study in the real world is slowly being taken over by online discussions in tech forums. Family time is being eaten away by parasitic social networking. This is the scenario observed in the teens and youth. No matter how hard you try as a parent, there will be a time when there will be a face-off between you and your child on any topic for that matter.

My point is, let technology NOT be the reason for that stand off! To ensure that, we need to understand where it all begins. The toddler phase is the rooting phase for a child. So, water the tender roots with your love and, your presence. Nourish these supple roots with the much needed exposure to the real world. Encourage their growth with zero comparison to others. After all, parenting is not about achieving a place in this world. Rather, it is about understanding your own journey as a selfless, compassionate and a thoughtful human.

More often than not, discussions on social networking forums are a litany of arguments that do not go beyond confusing or disillusioning a parent. So, as a parent, you surely don’t need a smartphone, or virtual person’s opinion on how you must raise your child. In case you doubt yourself, fall back on your parents who raised you. Definitely you have not been a failure despite having been raised in a time with little invasion from technology. So you surely know what to do. I would leave it at that.

Narayani Karthik is an army wife who is a software engineer by profession. After a three year stint in the IT industry, she dabbled in content writing for a while before she embarked on the most beautiful journey of her life – Motherhood. After having been a Stay-At-Home-Mom for about three years, she took to teaching pre-primary children. This experience helped her gain an insight into toddlers’ behavior and psychology. Besides being a book lover, she loves to cook for her man in olive-green (Yes, she is a Proud Army Wife!) and loves to spend a lot of time with her hyper active son – Arjun. And then, in some free time that she manages from her busier than busy schedule, she loves to blog at Swimming In An Ocean Of Thoughts…