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Commentary: Children, Bleeping and Learning

Updated on February 10, 2013


I have always loved children. One of the things that I love most, is the wonder with which children view the world. Young children notice things that we, as adults, take for granted. Children are, by nature, curious, with a healthy need to explore. They look at things with a different eye, and make new discoveries because they have no pre-determined frame-of-reference. This is how young minds develop and flourish.

And, observing children, can bring us perspective as adults (as well as teaching us a thing or two!).

To provide background as to my frame of reference: I spent the last 16 years of my life working in a specialty toy store. It was an old-fashioned place, where you could find things that were nostalgic. Our shop avoided battery-operated toys. Children (and adults) were able to touch, and play with, the merchandise – and were actually encouraged to do so. The sales slips were all handwritten; our inventory was extensive and not computerized (and therefore “taking inventory” was a 4-letter word!!)

From a personal standpoint, my husband and I are fortunate enough to have six grandchildren.

I confess that I am scared for the current generation of children.

While modern technology has its merits, it also has flaws that need to be acknowledged.

How many times do we see children with parents who are more focused on their cell phones than on their children?

I see young children with their parents in a toy store: instead of interacting with each other… instead of sharing the play experience…. these children are often, to a great extent, ignored and neglected by parents who are completely focused on their electronic devices.

What message does that send to these children? That you need to be “connected” at all times, to the exclusion of your surroundings? Does it mean that what is happening on that electronic device, is more important than paying attention to the child -- who is simply trying to ask for attention or guidance from a parent?

Moreover, the children are confronted with constant bleeps and screens. I see children (including our own grandchildren), given a “smart” phone, with an electronic game to play, to keep them amused and silenced. In the olden days, the parents had to put some effort into teaching children appropriate behavior – now, the children are often given bright colored screens, simply to keep them quiet.

The excuse is often that these electronic devices are educational or stimulating… but is that really true?

In the cars, our children used to look out the window. They would see the world; they would observe and learn. Now, it makes me sad to see so many children, simply staring at a TV screen during a car ride. Sure, it keeps the children calm and entertained… but at what cost to the young developing minds of the future generation?

Our own grandchildren (unfortunately) live in another state. I remember visiting their homes, when they were still under the age of 1, and being personally appalled by the number of toys that had music, sound, lights and action. The overstimulation was amazing.

And, as a toy store owner, I remember vowing to find more classic baby and toddler toys that weren’t battery-powered or super stimulating – a task which was much more challenging than it sounds.

To my surprise, the bigger challenge, was often to convince parents – and even grandparents – to purchase these toys. Many people have the attitude that these simpler toys are not “challenging” enough for children. I am amazed by how many people have told me that their child is “too advanced” to play with a ball.

Simple blocks, puzzles, ball-pounding, pull toys…. these are things that have entertained, and educated, children for generations. These are the toys that have true play “value”.

The trend to buy more and more volume, and more and more high tech, is not a good thing.

When I was a new parent myself, I recall reading a valuable piece of advice: it’s a good thing when your child is bored, because that’s when his/her mind has the opportunity to wander a bit, to think creatively, to come up with new ideas….

To really learn… to really grow… and to really thrive, children need down time. They need some time without structure – and without so many constant distractions. They need time without bleeps and lights and sounds and buttons.

And, sometimes, they also need their parents. They need their parents’ undistracted attention.

Maybe today’s generation could use a little more boredom.

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