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Getting to Grips With Technology

Unknown Thursday, November 1, 2012 ,

Having toyed with the idea for a couple of months, at the start of the summer I bought myself an iPad.  Actually, that statement is incorrect: I bought an iPad.  Because if there's anyone who barely ever gets the opportunity to use this toy, it is myself.
Indeed, if there is anyone who actually 'owns' it then it is the kids.  Of course we try to limit its use as much as possible but if it is being used then it most probably is by them.

A part of me is fascinated with how quickly they got to grips with it.  Even our toddler can recognise his games and 'play' them and for me it is astounding that this gadget can be handled even by an eighteen month year old.

Of course, part of the iPad's (and other tablets) main attractions is that it can offer up a seemingly endless list of games (a good deal of which are for free) so it is easy to understand why the kids wouldn't let it out of their hands if it were up to them.  It is also why there are a few base rules that we've set: there are no electronic gadgets when we're eating, likewise when we go out, they cannot download (or view) anything without  my express permission and time during which they can use it is limited.

It is this latter rule that more often than not is the sticking point.  "Can we play with the iPad?"  "No, you've already played enough."  "Ufff..." (...often accompanied by pouting lips and stamping of feet).  This is a conversation that for the past few weeks has been getting played out over and over again.  Which, if you're tired after a day at work, isn't the type of conversation you can have (especially repeatedly) without ending up either overly frustrated or else angry.

That's not to say that it is all bad.  A lot of games are educational and they actually do help in the children's development. You can actually see them learning and, if you know which games to get them to play, you can see their problem solving techniques getting sharper and sharper.  Sometimes, they can see solutions to problems that leave me stumped.

Yet there remains that nagging doubt that perhaps we're trading their social skills for a few minutes of peace.  Because if there is one universal truth about this gadget it is that it cuts you off from the rest of the world (something which, for all the social media sites that there are, is true for most of modern technology).  Try getting an answer out of a kid (or, for that matter, an adult) who is engrossed watching something on television or the computer if you want to test the validity of that statement.

Naturally, as parents this worries us.  We worry not because they're using the iPad but because they're forgoing other alternatives.  And I'm not referring to important stuff here - study for instance - but also doing things we traditionally associate with kids such as drawing or playing with their toys.

Then again, is it really that different to my own experiences as a child?  I remember eagerly awaiting for 2 o'clock in the afternoon during the summer at which point an Italian station used to transmit a movie.  Most of the time I spent reading, going to up to three libraries during a week.  Tellingly, I remembered being extremely bored as well.  The only difference is that today there is so much more entertainment for kids that is readily available.

The truth, perhaps, is that iPads and such gadgets present parents with a modern twist to an old problem: teaching your kids to find a balance in their life.  There are times when you can play and others where you have to work.  And there are times where you can play with one thing and others when you should be exploring new things to see whether you come across something that gives you greater enjoyment.

Traditionally, I'm not sure that we've (as a society) really fostered that balance.  Study has always been king as evidenced by the huge decline in the number of young adults practicing sports at around the ages of fourteen.  But it is possible to study without sacrificing other hobbies.  If we want to raise well rounded individuals who are capable of managing their time so that they can lead a life that fulfills them, then we need to change that. iPads or not.

This article appeared on the Autumn 2012 issue of Growing Up in Malta.

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