I recently watched my sister perform an act of magic.
We were sitting
in a restaurant, trying to have a conversation, but her children,
4-year-old Willow and 7-year-old Luca, would not stop fighting. The
arguments - over a fork, or who had more water in a glass - were
Like a magician quieting a group of children by
pulling a rabbit out of a hat, my sister reached into her purse and
produced two shiny Apple iPads, handing one to each child. Suddenly, the
two were quiet. Eerily so. They sat playing games and watching videos,
and we continued with our conversation.
After our meal, as we stuffed the iPads back into their magic storage bag, my sister felt slightly guilty.
don't want to give them the iPads at the dinner table, but if it keeps
them occupied for an hour so we can eat in peace, and more importantly
not disturb other people in the restaurant, I often just hand it over,"
she told me.
Then she asked "Do you think it's bad for them? I do
worry that it is setting them up to think it's OK to use electronics at
the dinner table in the future."
I did not have an answer, and
although some people might have opinions, no one has a true scientific
understanding of what the future might hold for a generation raised on
"We really don't know the full neurological effects of
these technologies yet," said Dr. Gary Small, director of the Longevity
Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of
"iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind."
"Children, like adults, vary quite a lot, and some are more sensitive
than others to an abundance of screen time."
But Small says we do
know that the brain is highly sensitive to stimuli, like iPads and
smartphone screens, and if people spend too much time with one
technology, and less time interacting with people like parents at the
dinner table, that could hinder the development of certain
So will a child who plays with crayons at dinner rather than a coloring app on an iPad be a more socialized person?
Ayduk, an associate professor in the Relationships and Social Cognition
Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, said children sitting at
the dinner table with a print book or crayons were not as engaged with
the people around them, either.
"There are value-based lessons for
children to talk to the people during a meal," she said. "It's not so
much about the iPad versus nonelectronics."
Parents who have little choice but to hand over their iPad can at least control what a child does on those devices.
report published last week by the Millennium Cohort Study, a long-term
study group in Britain that has been following 19,000 children born in
2000 and 2001, found that those who watched more than three hours of
television, videos or DVDs a day had a higher chance of conduct
problems, emotional symptoms and relationship problems by the time they
were 7 than children who did not. The study, of a sample of 11,000
children, found that children who played video games - often
age-appropriate games - for the same amount of time did not show any
signs of negative behavioral changes by the same age.
us back to the dinner table with my niece and nephew. While they sat
happily staring into those shiny screens, they were not engaged in any
type of conversation, or staring off into space thinking, as my sister
and I did as children when our parents were talking. And that is where
the risks appear.
"Conversations with each other are the way
children learn to have conversations with themselves, and learn how to
be alone," said Sherry Turkle, a professor of science, technology and
society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of the
book "Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From
Each Other." "Learning about solitude and being alone is the bedrock of
early development, and you don't want your kids to miss out on that
because you're pacifying them with a device."
interviewed parents, teenagers and children about the use of gadgets
during early development, and says she fears that children who do not
learn real interactions, which often have flaws and imperfections, will
come to know a world where perfect, shiny screens give them a false
sense of intimacy without risk.
She said, "They need to be able to
explore their imagination," without devices. "If you don't teach your
children to be alone, they'll only know how to be lonely."
© 2013, The New York Times News Service