At the annual gathering of my family, one of my relatives asked me a simple yet profound question after having seen a chubby toddler playing games on his iPhone (Or maybe his father’s iPhone?). His question was: How soon can we introduce children to technology?
That’s an excellent question, and a question that we should all be collectively pondering as a community and a family. With the rise of the internet and our technological devices, children, sooner or later, with or without their parent’s permission, will discover technology and quickly engage to it.
Though this question “How soon can we introduce children to technology?” serves as a starting question that can get us into the conversation about this topic, the next question that we must ask is: Given that those children are in the world of technology and internet, how do we help them to understand its beauty and its power to create something meaningful?
Seth Godin, one of the most original and helpful voices on the landscape of technology and parenting, has the answer to the questions I presented above. On the podcast On Being, Godin, and the host, Krista Tippett, contemplated ways we can help our children to be more inquisitive and creative in this “interconnected world.”
Here is the transcript:
Tippett: You know, you’re also raising children in this time. So how does that–how does parenting–how do your kids who are growing up in this post-industrial, post-geography world–you know, how do they continue to feed and inform your sense of what this means and what’s at stake and what’s possible?
Godin: You know, if you spend time with technically connected 15-year-old, you’re going to discover a bunch of things. First of all, many of them don’t watch any television whatsoever. But they consume more video than ever before.
Tippett: That’s true, yeah.
Godin: Um, and–and most of them are not concerned whatsoever about Dunbar’s number and this notion that they can only have 150 friends and family, or else their brain melts. They have 1,000 people that they’re connected with or 5,000 people. And they are living a life out loud. And some people are responding to that by saying, I don’t care. I’ll put up pictures of me drinking out of a funnel. And I will, you know, act out, because it’s in the world–I’m just going to do it and that’s fine.
And others–and I’m very lucky to live with two of them–are saying, wow, what a chance for me to contribute to this circle, and to organize to this circle. That here’s a stage and I’m not going to put on a play, but I am going to organize something, whether it’s, you know, helping to build something with Habitat for Humanity or putting a technical innovation into the world. And so as parents, we’re often pushed to make this choice.
And the choice is–keep your kids out of the connection world and isolate them and make sure they’re “safe.” Or put your kids into the world and, you know, all hell will break lose. Those are the things that they talk about at the PTA meeting. And I don’t think that’s the choice. I think the choice is everyone is in the world now. Everyone is connected. You cannot keep your 12-year-old from hearing profanity.
Tippett: Yeah, right.
Godin: You know, get over it. But given that they’re in the world, what trail are they going to leave? What mark are they leaving? Are they doing it just to get into college? Or are they doing it because they understand that their role as a contributor to society starts now when they’re 10, not when they’re 24. And that the trail they leave behind starts the minute someone snaps their picture.
And if we can teach children that there isn’t this bright line between off duty and on duty, but that the life is life and you ought to live it like people are looking at you, because they are, then we trust them. And we trust them to be bigger than they could be because they choose to be bigger. And it’s that teaching, I think, that is so difficult to do as a parent. Because what you really want to do is protect them and lock ’em up until it’s time. But the bravest thing to do is have these free-range kids who are exploring the edges of their universe, but doing it in a way that they’re proud of, not hiding from.