Helping a developing child to handle hyperreal technology

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My five-year-old son is obsessed with my iPad, iPhone, and Mac. He has a genetic predisposition to become hyper focused. Once something has his attention, and he’s really really interested in it, it can be almost impossible to get him to talk about anything else.

The iPad. The iPad. The iPad. That became the answer to every one of his problems. Let me play with the iPad!

As a technological enthusiast, I like to think that I understand both the cost and benefit of having this technology accessible to young children. Having been addicted to video games at one time in the 90s, I also feel I have a distinctive understanding of the dangers of this technology.

What follows is how I’ve chosen to deal with the situation with my own son. By sharing my techniques, I’m hoping I can help other parents who face a similar challenge with their child becoming obsessed with the technology in front of them.

The goal is making reality more attractive to the child than fantasy. Reality can be dull, or depressing, or downright miserable. Technology provides “perfect worlds” In 1080 P. Fully realized, hyperreal Disney movies can have more neurological impact than actual real-life events in some instances. You know when your grandpa’s birthday is? Or can you recall all the dialogue from cut scenes in Halo? This disparity helped me reach a catharsis. I can use the technology to reinforce my child’s reality, as well as develop his imagination.

When my son begs me to use the computer, it’s not to play a video game. It’s not even to play in educational game. When he begs to use my computer, it’s to use iPhoto to view a slideshow. Looking back at the positive family events we’ve experienced, it reinforces our bond as a family, reminds him of all the good times he does have, and at the same time presents it in beautiful 1080 P — using all the technology strengths to show my child what’s really important.

Also, we have screen-free days. When I say “screen free” I mean television, Internet, and mobile (as much as possible). Today is a great example. Having a rare full day to spend with my kids, we did the following: went to Church, walked to a hardware store, walked to a park, came home and raked leaves, played a board game, and chased each other around the house as ghosts. My son made up stories the whole walk, filling his “entertainment vacuum” with pure imagination. The hardware store? Discovery of an LED flashlight. A bit of tech to shine on reality is fine with me.

Finally, my child is in a karate club. Not only is he learning self defense and reflexes, he is learning balance, attention, respect for authority, and tons of other intangibles that can at best only be imitated in virtual worlds. And his achievements will be real karate belts, not those gleaned from button pushing in a virtual world. Similarly, I will purchase him a real drumset before he plays Rockband. A kid needs to know what real is before he learns what isn’t.

I don’t expect my kid to avoid video games or computers as all. If he can distinguish fantasy from reality, select real tangible goals and achieve them, self filter and make healthy choices, then I will happily loosen restrictions and give him access to an XBox. In the mean time, establishing what reality is and what is really important is my primary goal. Care to join me?


5 Reasons I hate Mickey Mouse Clubhouse


I just finished reading my son a bedtime story. Rather than our usual storybooks, instead I chose a story from a magazine that my wife subscribes to as part of her day care offerings. Reading these stories made me vomit in my own mouth, and here are the top five reasons that I hate Mickey Mouse’s clubhouse stories and want them to be banned and burned.

Reason number one: Inane banter

The characters definitely seem high. All they talk about is how glorious everything is, how happy they are, and as many Disney brands as they can mention in three sentences.

Reason number two: posing as educational material

Having a story about a blanket in which they boldface every instance of blankets, does not instantly make that story educational. In my experience with my son after the third of eight frames of spelling the word blanket, bed was looking more inviting than the story.

Reason number three: completely implausible scenarios

In the story I read, the blanket is, several times, picked up by a gust of wind and gets stuck in a tree. Mickey Mouse solve these problems by making a trampoline appear and jumping on it, and by pulling a lever in a tree and making a shelter appear in which they eat all their food from the picnic. Well first of all, there’s the obvious bit that once you are eating inside it is no longer a picnic. But more importantly, I don’t want my son going on a Boy Scout outing, have trouble with his tent, and expect a lever to appear in a tree, with which he can make a shelter magically appear. The story is encouraging a generation who expects all their problems to be instantly solved without thinking.

Reason number four: branding, branding, and more branding

I know I mentioned this above, but it is worth mentioning again. Can you imagine if Disney didn’t have a marketing department? What if, instead, they were forbidden to mention any Disney brand-name that didn’t correlate directly to the story and even within the story they could only mention for example, Mickey Mouse, 100 times or less. The stories might read like, well, stories.

Reason number five: so many other examples of stories that do it right

Tiki Tiki Tembo is a story about two brothers. One has a long name, and the other has a short name. Sequentially, the short one first, they fall into a well. In this story, there is no magic lever next to the well for the other brother to pull. Instead, he has to walk all the way across the city and climb up a mountain to find an old man with a ladder who is sleeping and doesn’t want to see him. This is much more realistic.

In conclusion, Mickey Mouse clubhouse creates fantasy worlds that only serve to give children unrealistic expectations, and dumbed down minds, rife with propaganda and bizarre magical solutions to all problems.

Now where are my Muppet show DVDs…..

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Slowing Down

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There’s several things very wrong with writing at 120 words per minute.  The first is, you often end up blurting out things that you otherwise might edit.  The second is, there’s no time really to process that which you have written — the words hit the page sometimes faster than your mind can process them.  Before you know it, your mind enters this state where you are actually slowing yourself down deliberately so that you are able to communicate effectively rather than quickly.  Alternately, you do NOT slow down and what you are typing degenerates into incoherent rambling.

Similarly, there are situations in which it’s easy to jump to conclusions.  The speed at which communication and work move right now make it very easy to do so — and the fact that you are competing with machines, knowledge bases, Google, subject matter experts — all that jump to conclusions in a fraction of a second.

I’m starting to wonder if ADHD, autism, and all similar ailments are caused by this overstimulation, the pressure, the stress of the modern age to perform quickly.  Those who can achieve quickly, move to the head of the pack, as they are keeping pace with technology. But what about the painstaking meticulousness of yesteryear?  The artist that slaves away with details at the perfect masterpiece for years.  The engineer that crafts a computer program commented down to the last detail.  The nurse or doctor that really takes the time not just to be your physician, but to know you as a person and know the little quirks that make your body tick.

I am making deliberate efforts to slow down, to process, to digest, to contemplate.  Technology’s greatest assett, it’s ability to access knowledge and make “snap” decisions, may also be its greatest liability. Contemplation allows us as humans, to still have the upper hand, and an asset I’ve yet to be seen replicated — perspective.

Categories: Technology