NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 27, 2012

Technology: Helping or harming childhood?

Viewpoint
Madison Williams

---- — Imagine your life without the latest technology. Imagine it without the Internet. Without a computer. Without a 4G Network. Without a smartphone. Would you be able to survive? Would you go to the public library to check out a reference book? Would you even know how to check out a book? Or even worse, would you know where the library is without using your “maps” app?

In today’s world, life revolves around technology on the axis of electronics. Computers are replacing books and memory sticks are replacing human minds. People have begun losing their patience with the complex world and crave instant gratification by their hand-held devices. They ignore the vast world around them and zone in on the 4-inch retina display.

I’ve witnessed “technology zombies” ignore the world around them even in some of the most beautiful places on earth. In June, my family took a vacation to the Hawaiian Islands where we indulged ourselves, spending hours at a time on the white sandy beaches where gentle waves crashed upon the beautiful coral reefs. The sun kissed the backs of surfers and glistened on the sprawling palms of palm trees. Our cellphones and computers lived in the hotel room, unlike the high-tech devices of the majority of other tourists who could not be separated from their “babies” for any substantial period of time.

We could count on one hand the number of families who were not glued to their electronics. In fact, one night while we were on Kauai, we went to a restaurant that overlooked a lagoon. The view was magnificent and the warm breezes were delicate yet spectacular. In the distance, the mountains shot up out of the ocean in jagged clumps, decorated with banyan trees and other tropical vegetation. As we waited to be seated, I looked over to see a family similar to ours: two teenage girls and their parents, sitting on a bench, all with their eyes locked on their phones. Most likely they were updating their Facebook statuses or tweeting about “how much fun they were having,” while in reality they were missing out on the beautiful place they were visiting. None of them was interacting with each other. It’s debatable whether the father was sneaking a glance at the mother’s text message, but that was the extent of their “interaction.” They might as well have been sitting in their basement, staring at their phones. It didn’t matter if they were in their basement or the incredible island of Kauai; they were in a different universe altogether: the universe of technology, where one becomes enveloped by the machine in their palms.

Most people are being sucked into the universe of technology, but children are more easily tempted and affected by electronics. The children of our generation are growing up in a completely different world than our parents or grandparents. As technology consumes our daily lives, personal relationships deteriorate, as do our social skills. People, especially children and young adults, are spending more time on the computer than having conversations with family and friends. Parents are seeking ways to keep their child happy and quiet, so sticking them in front of a screen seems to lift a weight off their shoulders.

However, we are creating monsters. Yes, monsters. Today’s young kids are spoiled by the convenience of the Internet and the instant feedback of a computer game. They no longer have to wait for their friend to take his turn while playing Yatzee. They no longer need a friend. The computer immediately takes its turn and the child doesn’t have to wait.

Parents, you must save your kids by limiting their access to electronics. According to Silicon Alley Insider (2009), a business and entertainment news website, nearly 40 percent of children ages 10 to 11 own a cellphone. When kids grasp an electronic device, their posture deteriorates, their ears “shut off” outside noises, and their eyes lock into a permanent gaze.

Is this what we want for our kids? They are losing the characteristics of childhood: playing outside with the neighbors until mom calls them home for dinner. Instead, they lock themselves inside and play with their electronics for hours on end. Our children’s brains are programmed like the machines they hold in their tiny little hands.

There is still a chance to reverse this trend, but it will take the hard work and dedication of parents to withhold the iPhones, iPads and Nintendos from their desperate children. Stay strong, parents! Don’t succumb to the whining, melt-downs and tantrums as your children go through withdrawal. We need to draw the line between the benefits of technology that improve our society and technology that wastes away the hours from our days and erases time that could be used in more productive ways.

Let’s not allow American families to become like the family I witnessed in Kauai. Enjoy the special moments of life that cannot be provided by a hand-held device. Instead, grab your child’s hand, soak up your surroundings and cherish your time together. Let’s prove to the world that we will advance as a society by using technology wisely rather than being consumed by it.

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Madison Williams is a junior at Triton Regional High School who wrote this piece for her AP English Composition class.