audio stories for kids ages 4 to 12

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Newsletter May 2011

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Are you losing your children to Technology?

By Trenna Daniells

I was waiting for a table in a favorite restaurant of mine at the very busy dinner hour and experienced first hand of the overwhelming fascination we have for technology in mass. As I sat there people watching, (one of my favorite activities) a long plush bench began to fill with families waiting for their names to be called for a table. At least 3 different families were seated nearby and immediately the iPhones, Droids and other electronic devices began to appear. One father toggled through the various app options and I overheard him say, “Have you seen the giant crab yet?” A young boy, maybe 6, sat anxiously glued to the screen and his 4-year-old sister sat on the other side of Dad with eyes glazed over. “Let me show you, said the father. I was perfectly positioned to witness a ravenous shark making its way through the ocean and eating up every fish and sea thing in sight, jaws opened blood gurgled out and then off to the next fish. As the device was expertly moved to and fro the shark changed its direction and zeroed in on his next catch. The shark had surely eaten enough fish, crab, sea urchins to last him for a month, when out of the blue, sure enough a giant crab comes over the rocks and its game over. “See, what I told you, we have to start again.” This went on until their name was called and all of them stood up and rather reluctantly shut off the game.

A well dressed, perhaps working Mom dug out her iPad and handed it over to a deft 7 year old and the older tween pulled another electronic device out of a backpack. Dad was busy answering emails, while (beep) Mom took out her cell phone to answer a text. Wow. Does anybody talk anymore? And when they do, is it to the person with whom they are having dinner?

As Jimmy Buffet sings in a recent album, “everybody’s on the phone, all connected and all alone.” I must to admit to having mixed emotions about all this electronic communication/entertainment etc. A recent article in USA Today, titled “Tiny fingers itch for iPhones: Technology-savvy toddlers give parents a new worry”, outlines how parents are indeed troubled about their children becoming anti-social. One can argue that many of the apps are learning tools and have their toddlers learning their ABC’s and counting to 20 in both English and Spanish, as they become more tech savvy on Dad’s iPad than he is. The fact is, they want their OWN iPad. The article goes on to quote parents saying “We’re trying not to be bad parents and let their brains get sucked out by computers,” “But I don’t want them to be ostracized their peers either.” Somebody conflicted besides me. Good.

According to studies done at Adzookie.com, which places ads on smartphones, almost 5 million households with kids under 6 have smartphones. And 50% of iPhone moms let their kids use their phones: 29% of those moms have kids under 4. An additional 4.7 million households with kids 6 to 11 have smartphones Not that they need their moms’ phones. Five percent of kids age 6 to 9 own their own and the number is growing every month. It seems to be just part of childhood now for better or worse. Shocking huh?

So, another techno encounter, last Sunday night we go out to dinner with probably about my favorite family. They have 2 adorable, extremely well mannered daughters, ages 4 and 6. We are seated at a long picnic style table of trendy Asian restaurant in a great area of Boulder. As we are making our choices, the girls are settling in and I see the parents trying to tune into our adult conversation between pulls and interruptions, the parents complete each other sentences and stories, as we all try to catch up on each others lives. We’ve now ordered our food, the drinks arrive and out come the parent’s iPhones and they hand them over to each of the girls. They girls toggle through the apps and sit quietly with fingers moving and we are back to our adult conversation. Again, mixed emotions.

“What is happening today is the biggest experiment ever
conducted on our children in real time with no information?
We don’t know the long-term implications.”
Liz Perle, Editor
and chief at Common Sense Media

The USA Today article continues to site suggestions of “strike a balance”, “set limits”, which may be good advice. But when they asked Liz Perle, Editor and Chief at Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based non- profit that helps parents manage media and technology in their kids’ lives is brutally honest: “We Just Don’t, Know.” Perle says what’s happening today is “the biggest experiment ever conducted on our children in real time, with no information. We don’t know the long-term implications. The research is all anecdotal at this point.” When handling technology and children it all comes
down to common sense. “You’re the role model. Every time your toddler makes a noise and you hand him an iPhone you’re teaching him a behavior. You’re creating a pattern.” Perle says. “Do you want them to be balanced, engaged?”

Are our children turning into armchair warriors? Do they get unrealistic expectations of war games that when you lose, you don’t wind up dead you just get another life? Instead of taking Karate and learning the skill the discipline and gaining the physical strength, do they just play the game and really think they can stand up and face their live opponent armed with a control stick? Do they ever choose to build their dexterity with putting together models and find their creativity with paints and brushes, or if it can’t be created on a computer or an iPad will they even go there?

As parents, I think we should be concerned with our children’s ability to use and develop their imagination. Before we do anything, let alone be successful at it, we must first imagine it in our mind’s eye. When we hear or read or someone tells us a story, we see it develop it in our head. When I say, elephant you see it. It is now standing on a large blue ball with white stars and it has a black top hat on; now add a silver baton in its trunk. You created all of that and did it all in your head. If you open a computer or smartphone and it produces an
elephant with the ball and top hat, you didn’t imagine it. Some computer programmer out there somewhere in Des Moines, Iowa did. If your friend sends you a text about something going on in their life and you respond. You didn’t experience a social interaction with all the tonalities that allowed you to respond your best, but you knew how to socialize from all your past in person encounters. What if from the time you could push a button and knew your alphabet, you only responded on an electronic device, would you know how to act socially? Are we raising a bunch of Hals? Oh forget that, they won’t
know who that is, because they never read the book. How are we impairing our children’s ability to create, imagine and socialize?

How will they find the spirit it will take to learn a life long skills that allow them to everyday get paid to do their passion? Isn’t that one of the best dreams we can possible wish for our children? How will we empower them?

Reading, hearing writing a story is an art form whose power should not be diminished or underestimated. Playing games that involve building forts in the backyard and making mud pie sandwiches are activities that require children to dig into the roots of their imaginations. They suspend belief and they walk into worlds that they
have created. The synapses connect, fuse and create other links that they will use to create in some distance future. They see possibilities and dream potentials that have never existed before. Where did our greatest minds find the inspiration for their inventions, if not from
their own imaginations?

Where did they get the confidence to build or dream something that never existed before and have the determination to see it through if not in their own minds?
Will our children get the same satisfaction from getting to the 25th level of the latest game, as they would get from writing their own story, given a speech, performing a play or mastering a musical instrument or creating their own unique drawing? How will they find the spirit it will take to learn a life long skills that will allow them everyday to get paid to do their passion? Isn’t that one of the best dreams we can possible wish for our children? How will we empower them?

I was going to say I don’t know the answer to these questions. But I believe I do. I do know the answers aren’t to be discovered by burying our fertile young minds in apps, texting or video games. Let’s not lose sight of art of communication or the magic of storytelling. Let’s all make an effort to tune out of technology regularly and tune into each other. Let us strive to “be here now”.

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