What Have I Done?! (Or, On Fooling My Daughter’s Developing Feedback Mechanisms)


Douglas Rushkoff’s latest piece for Edutopia says no iPads for kids under eight. Gulp.

In a piece titled “Young Kids And Technology at Home,” Rushkoff (who I recently interviewed for PLGRM Magazine) takes the metaphorical screen off the figurative tablet (and tv):

all screens may be different, but they’re still screens to young children. On a most rudimentary level, this means they either depict two-dimensional realities (like cell phone interfaces and sideways-shooter arcade games) or use their 2D displays to depict 3D realities, such as TV shows. No biggie — except for babies and toddlers, whose ability to understand and contend with 3D worlds is still in development. They don’t fully understand the rules of opaque objects (that’s why peekaboo behind a napkin poses endless fascination), so high quantities of time spent sitting in front of 2D screens may actually inhibit some of their 3D spatial awareness. That’s why so many pediatricians recommend that kids under the age of two probably shouldn’t watch any TV at all.

My daughter is approaching five, and she’s been manipulating 3D representations of reality on a 2D screen since she was three. On a five hour drive from Phoenix to Los Angeles last year, she played almost constantly and went berserk when the battery finally died. Since then we’ve improved her emotional connection to it; she understands that it’s in her long term interest to shut it off when we say so. Now when she asks to play it, she cranks up the charm and bats her eyes.

Her favorite apps by far are the dozen or so Toca Boca simulations of cooking and making clothes. I love these apps, and I quite proudly show them to people whenever the little one is playing them in a restaurant. Still, Brother Doug wants none of it:

Little kids play with balls, seesaws and slides as they develop their vestibular senses, and come to learn about the wonders of gravity. They move on to Frisbees, bikes and Hula Hoops as they explore angular momentum and harmonic motion. The weightless world of a digital game or virtual environment fascinates us for the way it defies the rules of the real world; until we are firmly anchored in the former reality, however, these new principles are not neurologically compatible with a developing sensory system. Up and down, light and dark control a whole lot more in human biology than we might like to think. Best not to fool these feedback mechanisms before they have a chance to come online in a developing child.

Have I been fooling my daughter’s feedback mechanisms? Those of you with young kids, how do you manage their interaction with digital stuff?




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