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?