Saturday morning, my son woke up bright and cheerful. After all no school means, getting to sleep in. I was already stretched out on my Yoga mat, so he tried not to bother me. He went to the loo, and then got his toothbrush and declared he would brush his teeth himself! Now, that’s quite an event, because I still help him with it most of the time. He’s six and half, can add and subtract numbers faster than the grown ups at home and teach you a thing or two about how to use the latest iPad, but when it comes to the simple everyday stuff, he still needs a little handholding. It took me about two minutes to figure out the real reason for his voluntary show of autonomy. He wanted to be done with the boring rituals to begin the day, so he could get to the exciting stuff- he needed to get back to where he left off overnight on Minion Rush, Asphalt8 and Vector- his preferred computer games of the season. Obviously, this meant, I and my lil boy were on collision-course first thing in the morning! That has become something of a ritual too. I catch myself regularly giving him an earful just to get him to play ‘regular’ games, outdoors, like I believe is the normal thing for children his age to do. At least that used to be the ‘normal’ thing when I was once a child. But it turns out, this is the new ‘normal’.
It can get quite bad, this gadget obsession! But then, I have to confess, I am part of the problem. If I hadn’t introduced him to ‘Angry Birds’ on my smart-phone to ‘kill time’ while waiting to meet the teacher at his school PTM, and then not encouraged him to graduate to ‘Talking Tom’ on the Tab while waiting for the doctor’s appointment, and then again let him get addicted to the ‘Toy Story’ and ‘Ben Ten’ on the PSP, could he have reached where he now has? I still remember how as an infant, he would hammer away on the keyboard of my Vaio years ago. And I should admit, when I’m not doing the chores, I am myself on some gadget or other most of the time. It can’t be fair for me to expect model behaviour from from my child, with the example I set! The cold, hard truth is, children do as we do, they don’t do as we say. The answer then perhaps is the battered cliche: to be the change!
Mixed messages only confuse little children. As a parent, I cannot afford to have double-standards. It won’t work for me to ask him to switch on a gadget, just so he can be occupied and stay out of my hair, when its convenient for me, and then reprimand him for doing the same thing when he turns to it on his own. How fair is it to encourage your child to get comfortable with a certain activity and then decide to unplug them, when they have just started to enjoy it? Expecting compliance with multiple sets of conflicting instructions will backfire. So, unless I want to develop a life-long pattern of confused signals, it might make sense to sort out the mess before its too late.
What truly put the fear in me is the story of this father’s bizarre experience with his 7 year old son, being hooked to the virtual world of Minecraft. Reading about it was almost like a glimpse into the future for me. If I let him, I’m quite sure my son will get there too, and that seriously scares me.
The lure of the virtual world can hardly be underestimated. Its easy to see why a child would get hooked to a fast-moving, snazzy, multi-coloured fantasy world, where everything is always exciting and challenging. The games have been designed to appeal to their sensibilities and they succeed in ways nothing else can, to get the undivided attention of children we otherwise whine about having poor spans of attention. There’s something completely addictive about the combination of the graphics and the music, not to mention the exhilaration of getting to the next level, so they can brag about it to their school-mates the next day. Its plain irresistible.
But the argument in favour of technology that speaks to me, is its positive aspect. Of course there are people across the globe that have been surviving without state-of-the-art technology. Some because they are too remote, others because they cannot afford it, many because they have been denied by vested interests and yet others because they choose to have nothing to do with it. Be that as it may, what effects me directly is the subject of my interest. I find technological advancements quite inevitable and technology almost indispensable. As more and more aspects of our lives get mechanised, I can’t see my son missing the bus. I’d rather not see him bumbling around with gadgets not knowing what they are or how to use them. As someone who uses technology positively, I do feel the need for him to keep pace. He studies in a smart-classroom with electronic boards often used to explain concepts. He’s taught about computers and their uses and his curriculum requires him to clock supplementary hours on specific apps at home to reinforce his math skills- both numerical and spatial. The problem I see is of over-dependence. Worse, one of addiction. To me, the solution is to strike a balance. Depriving a child of access to gadgets can’t be the best idea. Limiting the time they spend on them, may be a good place to start.
There are many for whom technology is the enemy. I’ve decided, that isn’t my path. I’m not going to fight the inevitable. I’m going to try to use it to my advantage. Much as I rue the state of affairs- the fact that I have to routinely go from cajoling to yelling at my son to just get him to cycle or play ball instead of ‘Temple Run’, and can’t prevent the sinking feeling when I think of how far we’ve come from enjoying simply taking a walk to getting planted to the sofa in front of our TV sets, I’m not giving up just yet. It can’t be all that bad. I’m optimistic that the situation can still be saved.
Those of you who might be struggling with a similar situation, feel free to share your experience, pitch in with your views, comments and possible solutions. Meanwhile, here’s the via media we’ve come up with, as a family. We’ve agreed to agree. One thing that seems to work with my son, is to make a deal with him, before we start on a task. We negotiate the terms of the deal in a way that both of us can live with, and go forward from there. Breaching the terms calls for treatment in the silent corner! This should work at least until the terrible teens strike, so why the hell not try…
I’ve decided that if the iPad is the most important thing in the world to him right now, he only gets to use it once all his assigned tasks are completed to my satisfaction ( I know how skewed in my favour, this sounds!). So instead of waking up in the morning and switching on the gadget before anything else, all regular tasks including downing the glass of milk and outdoor play will be done before he earns half an hour on the gadget of his choice. Based on his performance, the duration of his reward can go up somewhat. Likewise, we now have rules that gadgets won’t be touched if homework is pending. Electronic games have been made a leisure time activity with a stop-watch attached. To beat the couch-potato syndrome, physical activities have been built into the week- swimming, tennis, using the two-wheeled balancing scooter, cycling and some yoga practice are being tried. The practice of taking our three dogs for an evening walk has also now become a ritual. As we’re lucky enough to have some farmland, my son also gets to do what I and my siblings did as children- climb trees! Nothing beats clambering up tree branches like monkeys, finding the balance to stay there, feeling the high and being able to find your way back down.
It definitely is hard to accept that life has changed so much for us that from one generation to another we’ve forgotten the use of our body parts beyond our thumbs, forgotten the value of good-old social etiquettes to withdraw into our little fantasy worlds on our smart phones and computers and found joy, succour and validation in online communities rather than real flesh and blood individuals. But all is not lost just yet. Even if only by the dint of compulsion, those of us who still appreciate the value of ditching the car occasionally to take a walk when possible can hopefully pass on the benefit of that wisdom. Explaining the notion that gaming should only be a recreational activity to engage in, in one’s spare time instead of being obsessively pursued single-mindedly, is proving to be a task. I’m not sure if this is more of a ‘boy’ thing, or a generational phenomenon. But I’m relieved we’re making some progress on keeping things in perspective. How about you? Get in touch if this is something you’re grappling with too. It would be nice to know how you’re dealing with it…