Every year, nearly two dozen of my family members gather around my Nanna’s living room on Dec. 24 to unleash the spirit of the season from vibrantly packaged boxes. To maximize the entertainment factor of this spectator sport, and prevent temper tantrums, we let the little ones go at it first. I sit on the couch and watch on, somewhat jealous, as the “next generation” of cousins rolls around on the floor and struggles to tear away wrapping paper with their toothless mouths and teeny hands.
But this past Christmas, despite the dazzling display of cuteness, a conversation held my attention hostage: My cousin discussing her daughter’s iPad. Maybe it was one of many gifts under their tree at home waiting to be drooled on, but I’ll never know because for a span of time, I blacked out from disapproval.
Her daughter is 2 years old. Or maybe she’s 3? Either way, I don’t know if there’s such a thing as an appropriate time to begin swamping children with technology, but I do know that my toddler-aged second cousin is way too young for her own iPad.
As not to dampen the holiday cheer, I kept my opinions to myself that day, but now I’m getting real, and “Santa” better listen up: Give a toddler an iPad, and you might as well sprinkle cocaine on her cereal. As technology continues to grow and enmesh into our daily routines, it’s forging a bond not easily broken, an unhealthy attachment that materializes earlier and earlier these days.
And what’s the price of gifting technology? It also sucks away our souls. Technology gave us the Internet, but the obsession with Internet porn has been destroying lives and relationships for decades. Technology gave us social media so we can stay connected with loved ones across the world, but currently, there are therapists trained to treat clients who suffer from Facebook addiction.
Not only does introducing youngsters to technology detach them from reality and compromise their emotional health as they develop, it discourages exercise. Go ahead and argue, but I’ve got “Childhood obesity is out of fucking control,” ready to whip out in my defense, plus some ugly stats. The number of overweight and obese children (aged 6-11) has more than doubled over the past 30 years in the United States and tripled in adolescents (aged 12-19). As of 2010, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
But why would a kid want to go outside and play a game of pick-up soccer with his friends when they all can sit on the couch, click some controllers and make the players in “FIFA 13” do all the work on the flat screen instead? I wonder how many calories “rigorous button pressing” or “vigorous joystick fidgeting” burns? Next thing you know, Wii Fit is going to be our only hope for getting kids to “exercise.”
Luckily for me, my tomboy nature never let me sit still as I grew up. One weekend, when I was 10 years old, I had an AAU basketball tournament, a swim meet and two soccer games, and whether for their sake or mine (probably both) my parents finally made me choose. These days, more often than not, the big dilemma for a 10 year old is whether to watch YouTube or Netflix on his tablet. But thankfully, he can just pop open another window in his browser and do both at the same time.
Getting off the couch won’t solve the childhood obesity crisis — nutrition is key — but if I’m slacking on my exercise plan, chances are I’m not sticking to my diet either. It’s about discipline. I’ll bet anything that parents who don’t encourage physical activity and let their kids live sedentary lives also feed their kids crap.
When I used to babysit these two lovely, little girls down my street, their mother limited their “TV time” to one hour a night because “they’d jump into the screen if they could,” and every time I reported for duty, she’d prepared a healthy meal for her daughters (and me), rather than leaving 20 bucks for pizza on the counter.
We need more moms like that. We need parents to step in and set a good example for their children. So, if you do give your toddler an iPad or an Xbox, explain that virtual exercise is no substitute for the real deal. And there’s one upside to children with a technological addiction: It’s something to take away when they don’t eat their vegetables.