Are kids comforted by technology?

Published: December 13, 2012

A couple of nights ago, I stood outside the double doors that led to the photography studio in the mall where I was taking my son to get his first professional photos taken. At two years old, you’d think I would have taken him to get this done before now, but photos taken with my own digital camera seemed just as good and didn’t faze him when the flash would go off. However, as a parent I feel obligated to hand out professional looking photos this holiday so we decided to give it a shot.

I could have told anybody working with us that he probably wouldn’t cooperate. Boy was I spot on. He behaves better at the doctor’s office than he did at the studio. The flashes and overwhelming emotions of 3 or 4 women trying to make you laugh must have really thrown him in a tizzy, because he made sure any time a photo was about to be taken he was face-planted on that white backdrop. It was about ten minutes in before my best friend, who was also with us for moral support, pulled her phone out of her pocket.

“Phone?” a small voice squeaked. Riley held his hand out towards my friend.

“Oh, let’s see what he does with the phone!” my friend suggested. So we let him hold the phone and although he still wasn’t particularly interested in taking pictures, he was at least smiling and having fun calling and talking to me while I stood on the other side of the wall. This resulted in some pretty good pictures, but all of the poses featured him with a phone in his hand - fitting to his personality, because he’s always got one gadget or another with him. In fact, the more I think about it, playing with a phone or a tablet is what gets him to calm down in almost any situation.

During the photo shoot, my coos and hugs weren’t doing much. We got one shot where I kissed his forehead and he looked pretty dismayed about it. But the photos with the phone are the ones that made him visibly happy. Is it possible that technology is what comforts some children if exposed to them at an early age? These devices have become so enticing to them that some of them would rather cuddle up with a good tablet than a warm, fuzzy blanket.

Of course my son still loves to cuddle with me from time to time, but I still guffaw at the times where I say, “Riley, come give mama a hug!” and he says, “No!” and makes off with either my phone and/or a tablet.  When friends or family, or even strangers are around that have their phones out, their phone becomes his phone. When he gets upset because I won’t let him play with anybody else’s device, what do I give him to calm him down? My phone, naturally. 

What really started me on writing this article was a series of events, from the photo shoot to last night. He woke up very early in the morning, seemingly from a bad dream, and I went to his room to pick him up and cuddle him. He was still half asleep, but my phone lit up with an e-mail. There was that same small voice again: “Phone?”

“No, not right now; time for sleep.” I told him.

“No, phone.”

“No, sleep.” I give him a couple of pats on the back, and then he fell back asleep. That’s when I started pondering if other kids were the same way, whether it involves phones or perhaps a similar gadget.

Regardless, I think it’s time to start limiting my son’s phone usage and start encouraging more real interaction with real coloring books and real building blocks. I feel like this is just as bad as “too much TV”. Although I think it's good for kids to learn how to use these devices (as it seems they are becoming increasingly popular in places like schools and libraries) I also feel that as a toddler, he (and I) should be spending more time being active.

For those of you with kids in your lives, whether they’re your own or play a big part in your life: are they seemingly comforted by technology? Would they rather play with your phone, tablet, or gaming system than with blocks or coloring books? Sometimes I wonder if it’s because our devices have simulators on them for coloring books or “building” blocks – I know I have apps like that for him. Perhaps they’re just acting as substitutes for the real thing.  Let me know your thoughts!

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