Opinion

If we don't want our kids to be addicted to technology, maybe we should start putting down our phones

We often complain about "kids these days" being glued to their devices — but where are they learning these habits?

We often complain about kids being glued to their devices — but where are they learning these habits?

When I have kids, I want to be able to say, "Do as I say, and as I do," writes Ramona Pringle. (CBC)

When it came to parenting, Steve Jobs' modus operandi was not unlike that used by the rest of us: do as I say, not as I do.

When New York Times writer Nick Bilton suggested to Jobs back in 2010 that his kids must love the iPad, the the godfather of the digital age replied: "They haven't used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home."

While parents the world over turn to the tool as a virtual nanny in moments of weakness, queuing up TV shows or games to entertain their wee ones in the stroller, the Apple visionary said he was reluctant to do the same.

It was a startling admission from a man whose life revolved around technology, but his message was a fairly relatable one. He didn't want his kids to become obsessed with technology.

We like to think that "kids these days" have developed their apparent technology addictions in silos. (The Associated Press)

I don't have kids yet, but when I do, I want them to have a healthy relationship with technology. These days, I can't help but think that the only way to do that is to adjust my own behaviour, and to do that, I need to start making changes now. That way, I'll be able to say, "Do as I say, and as I do."

We like to think that "kids these days" have developed their apparent technology addictions in silos. That idea is reinforced all over the place — including in advertisements — one of which landed in my inbox just last week.

It was a Nature Valley ad, published on YouTube back in 2015, in which three generations reflect on the question: "When you were a kid, what did you do for fun?"

The grandmothers and grandfathers say things like, "We'd go blueberry picking," and "I made a great toboggan." The next generation, the parents, talk about how they played baseball and hide and seek and built forts.

Then they go to the kids.

"I like to go on my phone."

"Text, send emails."

"My favourite thing to do in the world is definitely watching videos and playing video games."

Kids these days...

The ad leaves you with the melancholy sense that the joy of playing outside and exploring nature has been lost, replaced by the addictive allure of digital devices.

Now, it's worth stating that this commercial has been edited to send a specific message: go outside, get fresh air, eat granola bars.

But there's a problem with it. All of the things the kids said they do for fun? Well, I do those too. I text and send emails, a lot. I know I check my phone way too often. I watch online videos… remember, that's how I saw the commercial in the first place.

The ad doesn't show the parents' current digital habits, which probably helped to breed their kids' affinity for texts and emails and phones.

Most of us can't leave home without our smartphones, which have turned into digital extensions of our brains and bodies. (Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)

Look outside on the street, on the bus, in the mall, and you'll see rows of people gazing into their handheld screens. Most of us can't leave home without our smartphones, which have turned into digital extensions of our brains and bodies, and have, without us noticing, changed the way we relate to each other and the world. So before we get alarmed about what the kids are up to, we really should stop and take note of our own behaviour.

This past New Year, the resolution I heard far more than any other was of people wanting to limit their screen time and cut back on their use of social media. But how many people stuck with their resolutions? How long was it before we were back to our screens, scrolling through the latest outrages and atrocities on Twitter? It's a shame, but hey, that's our decision to make. We're adults.

Monkey see...

When it comes to the next generation, however, we owe them more. Kids watch us. They see our behaviour, and they model us, they mimic us. When we're constantly glued to our devices, it's no wonder they reach out for the iPad as well.

So before we dismiss this generation of kids as "different," it would do us well to assess and reflect on our own habits.

We can't enforce strict rules about digital devices and screen time if we can't keep to them ourselves, can we?

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Ramona Pringle

Technology Columnist

Ramona Pringle is an associate professor in Faculty of Communication and Design and director of the Creative Innovation Studio at Ryerson University. She is a CBC contributor who writes and reports on the relationship between people and technology.

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