Saturday, January 11, 2014

Why my kids won't be on technology in public

I fear this post may not be popular.

And I'm okay with that.

Let me preface it by saying, I am not perfect in this arena either. While I am mostly perfect, I have caved on occasion and bent my own rules.

What are my rules?

Well ... simply put, if we are out of our house, my kids won't be playing or watching or listening to anything that is stuck in their ears.*

They say "never say never." I may look back at this ten years later and realize how na├»ve I was. That's possible. If so, I'll retract this post. I'll write another post listing the reasons that my husband and I chose to change my mind.

But this is my blog, and I am entitled to share my feelings on things.

And so, my kids won't be on technology in public. They aren't now. And they won't be in the future.

That's our plan.

Why, you ask?

Read on.

But before you do, let me say that I am not judging you if you disagree with my points. I am not judging you if you do this when we are together. I am simply telling you what I believe because, well, this is my blog, and I want to.

So here goes.

When I left the USA in 2010, cell phones were prevalent, but I lived on a base in the Panhandle with terrible service. And Smartphones (or whatever you call them?) weren't in existence (at least that I saw.) So even if my friends had a cell phone, they weren't on them all the time. It was a take-a-quick-call-from-the-hubby-and-move-on type of thing.

I have been overseas for the last for years. And more importantly, I have lived in two remote locations that were basically immune from technology inundation. 

In Turkey, not a single one of my American friends had a cell phone. (Okay, Patty did. She got one that she could only call her husband on. It made me laugh. It made her laugh. She did it because she needed a phone.)  But that's the only person I can remember.

Here in the Azores, more people have phones, but if they have one, they use it sparingly. They are truly for important things. Smartphones (or whatever you call them?) are not utilized here. At least I haven't seen one.

When I get together with a group of friends here on the island, I have never seen a phone. Never heard a phone.

So imagine my surprise each time I go back to the USA. This last time I went back to deliver my daughter, I found myself in my OB office. There were four other women in the waiting room. Each one was on some sort of Smartphone (or whatever you call them?) No one looked at me or talked to me or asked me questions. I didn't have one of these devices and truly felt stupid. What do I look at? Who do I talk to? It was awkward for me. I grabbed a People and tried to pretend I was just as cool.

Both my mother and mother-in-law grew gravely concerned that I was going to drive without a phone. I'm in rural South Florida. There is a gas station on every corner. Why do I need a phone to drive? I do see why a phone is good in the case of an emergency. But a Smartphone (or whatever you call them?) Why do I need one of those to leave my house?

Okay, but that's a bit off topic.


Back to kids on devices.

Even worse than adults on these devices, in my opinion, is children on them. In the USA, I see kids riding in grocery carts playing games. I went to the movies and found five kids in the back of the theatre playing some sort of game. Their lights were glowing up the dark theatre. They are playing on iPADS in restaurants.

I received a complaint from an online friend the other day. She was complaining about a birthday party she attended where the kids were playing with their iPADS and watching movies on their handheld devices and not playing with each other. Her kids wanted someone to play with them. And the kids kept telling them that they were too busy. At a birthday party?!


When I return to the USA, I am amazed at how few people make eye contact with me. How many people are shopping and chatting on their phone at the same time. How many friends and family stop what they are doing to check their Smartphones (or whatever you call them?) How often the phone rings or vibrates while I am with family. It's incredible!

I walked into a restaurant for my nephew's birthday and as the waitress lead us to our table, we passed five other tables. Every single table was completely occupied on their own devices. One featured a couple, sitting across from each other. They were each playing a different game. It was truly like a bad dream.

My kids play education games on the iPAD. I'm sure they will listen to music as they get older. We watch limited TV. (As a side note, we do not plan on having video games in our house.) Anyways, I imagine, as much as I hate to admit it, that there will come a day, sometime in the future, that I will own one of these Smartphones (or whatever you call them?) Although, JB and I both want to avoid it if possible.

But while we might play with these when we are at home, But I will not allow my children to be on these devices in public. We might answer a cell phone. But we won't be leisurely chatting on them while we are out to dinner. We will not be playing games on them when we are in the dentist office waiting to be seen.

And here is where I list my reasons.

I believe it is because I was gone from America at the exact time that this technology exploded onto the scene, that I am able to see this with a bit of a fresh perspective. I am able to see it from the outside looking in. And here's what I see. People (especially kids) that are shoved in front of a screen every time a parent wants to them to sit down and be quiet in public are:
  1. Not getting to practice social skills. Small talk is vital to being a productive member of society. We have all met people who do not have good social skills, and life is harder for them. Learning how to make small talk and people watch and read people occurs by practice and by parents guiding that practice.
  2. Prevented from ever being bored. What is wrong with being alone with your thoughts? What about playing hangman on a napkin or searching license plates to find all the letters? How about reading a book?
  3. Not learning to observe. This is my biggest argument. I watch people tell their kid to sit and be quiet while the adults are talking and then they put a device in their lap. How does that child learn how to sit and be quiet? How do they learn to just sit and watch how adults conversate? If they are on a device, the child (or adult) is truly in another world. They are given a free pass from courtesies. If you are not on a phone, we are taught, to make eye contact and smile or nod at someone when they walk by us or sit down near us. But somehow, if you are on a device, this rule is thrown out the window.
  4. Rude. Giving yourself permission to not smile at the person next to you, not see that someone dropped their purse in front of you, or not having a hand free to open a door for someone is rude. Each time I return to America, I am amazed at how few people make eye contact with me. How many people are in their own world and allowed to be there. It's rude. 
So there you have it. To all my friends who don't follow these rules please note that I AM NOT JUDING YOU. I also think that there are exceptions to the rule. I remember sitting down in a Chinese restaurant in Istanbul with my friends. There were five children under five amongst us. We put a movie on a DVD player and let the kids watch it. I will definitely give myself permission to have exceptions to this rule.

However, that's exactly my point. I think those should be exceptions not regular occurrences.
As a rule, my kids won't be on technology in public.

Especially smartphone (or whatever you call them?) :)

Click here for a compilation of articles on kids and technology.

*I opt out of this rule on the day that we fly across the world to go back home. This rule has one exception and that is for long, across-the-world flights. However, when they are in the airport and have room to spread out, they can do something else like color, play a game, etc.

Here's an article that was suggested to me in the comments of the post that echoed my sentiments entirely.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your thinking in principle, but putting it into action is a different story. I remember thinking the exact same things when we were in Turkey. It's fairly easy to take this position when you are in a place where technology isn't so in your face. Right or wrong, like you observed back home, America is a different story.

I'm not a "black or white" parent. I tend to be fairly moderate. So, we have basic ground rules:no iPad at all on weekdays, never at the dinner table, and only in the car on long road trips. However, I've come to see it as another tool in my toolbox when I'm out and about. When we're waiting on an oil change, for example, I'll use technology just like i would use crayons or books, or puzzles. I tend to have them all with me at any given time, and rotate them fairly equally.

Just another perspective.....


Anonymous said...

One thing to consider-I don't see pay phones any more so having a cell phone is a good idea on road trips. Or you will have to borrow a smart phone (or whatever you call them).
I hate it when I am shopping and hear someone talking-thinking they are talking to me but then see they have a phone in their ear.
I don't like it when I'm in a conversation and a call or text comes in and it's like I wasn't talking (I feel the same way about call waiting! Rude!!)
I appreciate being able to send out bulk texts with info or getting prayer requests on my phone but when I go out I keep my phone silenced or in the car so I can 'be' who I am with.
I agree w/ Sarah -if I don't have a coloring book in my purse but kids do need to learn how to occupy themselves too.
I'll be curious to see what you think after being in the states for a year.
O, and you will let me play the donut game when I come to visit right? Mom H

ljd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan said...

Agree 100% with you Wendi. My kids are grown and have those Smartphones (??), yet complain when they don't have money for other things because they are paying a HUGE cellphone bill. I've had a cellphone for more than 10 years and the only reason I got it was because I was driving to and from classes after work. It was and STILL is for emergencies only. It's typically only turned on when I am traveling in the car by myself. It does not make pictures, it does not connect to the internet, it does not text - it is to make and receive calls in case of emergency. I believe it's rude and totally selfish when I see people so absorbed in their devices. My husband says that when you see these people (especially teenagers) walking around looking at their 'screens', it's because they are waiting for 'further instructions' to function!!

Wendi Kitsteiner said...

Sarah, I actually agree with you. I think, if used in an arsenal of hinges, it's okay, but in general, I have just met too many parents using these all.the.time! I think they are doing their child a disservice. Agree with you though. Nearly completely.

Judy Woodford said...

I appreciate your perspective, we have thought the same thing (my husband and I) and wondered if people even realize how much they are dependent on these devices. We have not had a cell phone until just recently and got it to use only when we are out in case someone needs us (we don't even know how to text =) and when we are home it is turned off!!

Texting is the BIGGIE here among young people in Canada.

jenicini said...

Ha, you're post is definitely not judgmental. :) I have a smartphone and am definitely addicted to it. My problem is that I like to read and read all of the time on my kindle app. However, the lack of basic manners with them drives me crazy. Using them while dining out or sitting at the dinner table is a huge NO! I give exception to young children who are dining out...but not to teenagers. There are some other basics too, but this is my pet peeve! :)

Wendi Kitsteiner said...

Thanks Jenkins ... Loved your comment!

Question though ... Don't you think that little ones should learn to sit at tables while out? Do you think they are missing something?we bring crayons and coloring books .... Just wondered what you thought about that?

Anonymous said...

I totally agree but I also think it will get a lot harder once you are in the States. I live in a suburb of a large city and most of my friends can't believe I don't have a smart phone and am not on Facebook. I found this article that I thought may resonate with you:

Mie said...

For the most part I agree with you. Our kids got tablets for Christmas and were allowed to play with them a bit more than usual but it was at home. When we're out somewhere we don't allow the devices. They beg to have them in the car but we only allow it on occasion and it has to be a longer car drive (not to school in the morning...). The only time I'll get out mky phone when we're out together in public is when someone asks something random and we want to know the answer as part of our group discussion (one that comes to mind recently was "What is the world's tallest volcano?"). It bothers me when I see a family sitting at a table all playing on devices, or kids playing on them at church, or those kinds of things.