I’ve always been an avid reader. As a child, I would often have two, three, often four or five books on the go at once. I still do. When my folks would try and get me to bed at night, they never had to read me a bedtime story as I would already be curled up with a paperback in my hands.
This isn’t to mean that it was all constructive reading… I would often read Archie comics or regular comic books. These numbered in the thousands by the time I reached the end of my teen years. But the reading was constant, and even the comic books helped to develop my imagination and creativity. My grandmother worked as a nurse, back in the days when nurses did a lot of the work that doctor would do, simply by virtue of availability. As a result, we had hundreds of medical textbooks from the 60’s in our home. And since there was only one room with enough space to fit a bookshelf to place them, they ended up in my room. My father wasn’t overly fond of me reading them, but I used to love going through them and seeing how the human body functioned. I think that may have been one of the divining factors behind my fascination with science (that, and Star Trek).
One of my mother’s biggest pet peeves when I was a child, was my tendency to bring books to the table. Although quiet and well-behaved (at least according to her) I had a tendency of having a book in front of my face as soon as I sat at the table. Both my parents would insist I cast the book aside to allow me to spend the meal with them. My parents believed that mealtime was an important time for a family to speak with one another, discuss the day’s events and simply be in each other’s presence. They were right.
There have been a number of studies in recent years related to the development of our children and the use of electronic devices. Although not inherently bad on their own, most professionals agree that child development depends on touch, visualization and speaking; many aspects we don’t get from a tablet. Even if your child’s device is “blessed” with educational app and games, their frequent use, especially at the dinner table and out at social gatherings (restaurants and get togethers) damage the child’s ability to develop certain social functions required as we grow into adulthood.
Mari K. Swingle, PhD. wrote a book on the subject called “i-Minds”, which covers the use of technology and its effect on our brains as well as our health and happiness. It will be released at the end of this month The National Post website has posted an interesting article, which cites some of Dr. Swingle’s concerns and can be read here: https://nationalpost.com/health/kids-are-getting-too-much-screen-time-and-its-affecting-their-development
My wife and I recently started imposing a “no devices” policy at the dinner table. It hasn’t been easy, and my son has often balked at the prospect. He’s even taken to using the trick we’ve often seen joked about online where he puts the iPad just outside the dining room but still within viewing distance. It’s been a challenge, but he is starting to have his meals on a more consistent level and chats with us at the table.
This morning, I took my son to Wascana Lake. Situated in Regina, Saskatchewan, it’s a man-made lake that was created in 1883 and it sits just north of the Parliament Building. It contains a lot of avian animals and is usually a favourite for people who run, cycle and take photographs.
Now, I could have shown Nathan some photos of the Parliament Building on his device. I could have looked up ducks and geese on his iPad and explained what he was seeing. He would have enjoyed it and would have “ooh-ed” and “aah-ed” at seeing the animals. But it certainly wouldn’t have substituted taking a walk together, approaching and seeing the animals in real life and interacting with them. His laughter and enjoyment, coupled with running and fresh air has no comparison!
Technology and smart devices can certainly make life easier, in some respects. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been guilty of planting Nathan in front of his iPad on occasion in exchange for a few moments of peace and quiet. And while the advancement of technology has aided society in many ways, it’s important that we not lose sight of our humanity. Sit and talk with your children. Spend time doing things with them. This is how we will ensure the continued growth of our society. Not through the screen of a smart device.
The Child Mind Institute has also posted a wonderful article on Understood.org that covers the subject of devices at the dining table and its effects on children, as well as their parents. The article can be read here: https://www.understood.org/en/family/events-outings/family-dinners-and-dining-out/should-i-let-my-child-quietly-use-his-phone-at-the-dinner-table