Children, Parents and Technology

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As children, we are always told to do this and do that. Often I find my parents telling me to get off my phone, or my computer or some other device. But are they doing the same?

In our digital age, we rely on technology to keep us informed and keep us connected with other people. Even at the young age of 13, I rely on my phone to keep in touch with friends and on my computer to keep up with the news and to research my interests. Our world has been taken over by those nuts in Silicon Valley. Recently Google changed its mobile search algorithm to favor mobile sites on mobile devices, which is perfectly sensible, and on CNN.com there was an article about how major companies that don’t have mobile sites are scrambling to make one. This is more evidence of our reliance on these companies and technologies.

I find myself checking my phone more than once an hour (don’t tell my parents), whether it be to check Instagram, text messages, CNN, email, or to ask the all-knowing magician known as Google what a six-speed manual transmission is. Our phones provide constant entertainment if we are bored for even a minute, and we have learned to rely on this diverting resource. My parents are deeply concerned about the amount of “screen-time” I get, especially in the evening before bed. They are rightly concerned about the quality and the quantity of my sleep. But I know for a fact that my dad is up at 2 am, sending emails and writing on his computer. Hypocrisy alert! How am I supposed to get off my devices when my parents are constantly on theirs? I’m the one worrying about my father’s sleep.

At the Aspen Ideas Festival last week I attended a panel about whether the Internet is taking us where we want to go, and one of the speakers, James Steyer, said that parents must set a good example for their kids when it comes to technology. At this panel, and elsewhere, there is so much talk about how we need to stand up to the Internet and prevent the new technology from taking over our lives. Many, many people talk about this subject, but who will take action? It must certainly start with parents. I’m part of a generation that is being raised on technology, and who raises young children? Parents! So many of the values we hold, and the habits we have, and the actions we take, are taught to us by our parents, often by example. Why should tech habits, actions and thoughts be any different?

I remember, as a young toddler, trying to emulate my parents. At that young age children aren’t that attentive to the words their parents say. Instead they learn from them by looking up to them, and taking their instructions from parental actions. As we get older, we learn that most of what our parents are doing is good, and so we continue to emulate their actions. Therefore, if my dad or mom is constantly checking his or her phone, I will do so as well. We develop habits easily at a young age. Parents are mindful of these habits, and so they try to set a good example. One area where they seem to be falling short is how to handle all of the exciting technological resources at our fingertips.

Parents can often be hypocritical. When I make a mistake (butt in on a conversation, eat unhealthy foods), my parents will chastise me. For example, a few days ago I was having a conversation with my parents and human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar about anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racial divides here in the US. My parents, before this conversation, had been telling me not to interrupt people when they were talking, which is clearly good advice. But when I had the floor, they kept adding on and trying to redirect the conversation. Of course they know more about these subjects than I do, but still I feel that this was going against something they had been telling me.

This ties back to the question of our dependence on technology. During the same panel in which I heard James Steyer, my father was speaking about how we need to defend and to study the humanities so that we can think critically about the influence of social media and Google, and to develop values that are different from some of the values that technology imbues in us. But what about taking the initiative ourselves to scale back our slavish reliance on our smartphones? How the world will look decades from now will depend on today’s young people and how they think. If parents were to set more of an example for their children by getting off their phones and joining the resistance against Silicon Valley, then their children would benefit, and so would our whole society.

Matthew Wieseltier is a student in middle school at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, MD. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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