I am a grandparent, and I observe that my grandson (very intelligent and nearly three and a half years old) has stopped discovering the world after he has been allowed access to his parents’ laptops. First, we were all amused and impressed at how he could move screens, play games, even open email pages, put on the camera and e-chat with his other grandparents. But now I can clearly see that he is unable to engage with anything else. He is really an addict, which is the word his parents use, but I think I would use that word too for his parents, who have their laptops on all the time. Even in the car they use their mobile phones for connection. I have tried telling them that unless they put the laptop out of sight, they will not be able to get him unhooked from the screen. I feel even watching cartoons on television is better than this—but funnily, they are so strict about not letting him watch television much!
I want someone to tell my daughter and son-in-law that they will have to disconnect their laptops if this child is to take interest in the world around him. What can I do to intervene without interfering?
Ah, the new idiot box, the laptop! Much as we may tell ourselves that sitting in front of the computer screen is a sign of having the smarts, and sitting in front of a TV is for dummies, the distinction is beginning to blur. And the issue that you have raised echoes this for sure. All the more pointedly when it comes to a small child. Adults who are overengaged with their BlackBerrys and laptops and iPods are themselves suffering from attention deficiency, lack of focus, vexed interpersonal relationships, stress, insomnia, physical ailments, and other such issues.
Get a life: If you are hooked to the computer 24x7, chances are your child will be too.
A child of 4 exposed constantly to these things instead of playmates, physical games and toys or interactions with people around him, is bound to lose out on so much. You are right in being concerned. There are many parents around who are, as you describe it, themselves unable to switch off from the network, and yet expect their kids to play, study, read, make friends, eat and sleep well!
I think if you have spotted this happening in your family, you would be doing them a favour by intervening. It may appear like interference, but steel yourself and get involved. I would advise you to do it in one serious talk with the parents, rather than several gentle and subtle hints, which tend to sound like nagging— which is easily ignored! Find the right note—firm, serious, but not judgemental.
Give them your reading of the situation—that laptop access is cutting your child’s all-round development, and manipulating screens is hardly a sign of anything wonderfully intelligent or interesting in a child. Try to come up with some solutions or options—you could suggest that they designate one hour of the day as a no-electronics hour.
In this way, you may help them see their own dependence too, and it will free up a little real life time for your grandson. If you can, and they are OK with it, take your grandson out somewhere, or to some activity/art/class, or a nature ramble at least twice a week, where he enjoys himself thoroughly and gets a sense of life outside of the screen.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.
Send in your queries to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org