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This was the question my five year old son asked after he came back from a friend's place in the evening. Later, he asked me again while I was tucking him in the bed, “Mum! Teach me how to operate your phone. K knows to operate his mum’s phone.” I smiled. I simply said – “We will discuss this later. Now, you sleep.” After he slept, I was pondering over his question deeply. “Am I holding my son back from embracing technology at a young age? And even if I am doing the right thing, is my son comfortable with the constraint factor?”
I am a modern day mother with an old school thought. Although I spend a considerable chunk of my day on the Internet (yours' truly is a content writer), I have successfully managed to keep my son away from tabs and phones despite his intermittent bouts of attraction towards it. But children are keen observers. Through sheer observation during my working time, he has learned to browse through the web. I was surprised and alarmed at the same time when he switched on the computer (I had not set a password then) and also knew how to shut it down correctly. To know his extent of knowledge, I sat with him and realized that he knew more things than I had expected. For instance, he knows how to navigate to his folder that contains panchatantra and hitopadesha stories. He knows about You Tube downloader that is used for downloading videos (something he had seen me doing while I downloaded countless educational videos for him). He also knows how to open the Chess titans. But, he doesn’t fiddle with the game. As of now, he watches while I play. Intermittently, he asks me about the pawns and rooks! Well, the bottom line is, I cannot shield him forever from the technology bubble. (Well, I have set a strong password and a tight parental control system in my laptop) The thing is, my son is born in an era wherein, technology is the real deal despite my repulsion towards it. However, the question that keeps coming back to me is – “Should I or, should I not?” That is when I knew that I needed to have an open conversation with my five year old son who is currently studying in UKG.
Questioning, I believe is the essence of life. The ability to question everything is like unlocking the dormant pecks of human brain and putting the grey cells to work on the Whys! And, who better than a child can vouch for the importance of questioning. A couple of months ago, I was boiling water in a pot, for making tea. When the steam came, my son who is usually by my side when making tea, asked, “Mum, what is that thing that is coming out of the pot? And, why are the bubbles coming on the surface?” And then, I explained to him about how the water evaporates, in simple words. He listened intently and then, went back to his usual pranks of displacing things in the house. A few weeks before, when my mum opened the refrigerator, there was a mist emanating from the refrigerator and instantly, my son says – “Paati! See that is steam coming out of the fridge.” To which a visibly and pleasantly surprised granny explained, “No. That is not steam. That is mist.” And, she went on to explain about how the water vapor freezes when it comes in contact with a higher temperature in the atmosphere outside the fridge. Then, he quips – “Oh! So when the water feels too cold or too hot, it changes its shape, no!” For now, I saved the Science explanation for later. And yet, I was surprised that he noticed such minuscule happenings which, are no more than some inconspicuous parts of our daily grind. A few days before, he saw an earthworm leaving a trail of its waste behind and, he asked me, “What is that?” And I replied, “That is an earthworm.” He gave me an angry look and chided me, “I know that! I am asking what is it leaving behind!” I chuckled, “It is the waste of the body and, the earthworm is discarding it just like humans do!”. And his next question was – “How does the poop leave the body? Who pushes the waste out?” I sighed as I tried to explain the concept of muscles and bones and somehow managed to convince him that he will be learning a great deal in school at the right time. The latest Q for us was – “Why is this door not closing like before?” It is monsoon time here and, the temperature fluctuations have been ridiculously volatile. And, I suddenly felt I needed the help of technology to give my son all the answers he needed. And so, began my downloading spree of various topics like, “How do clouds form?”, “Why does it rain?”, “How do seasons change?” et al. However, I never once gave him access to tablet or phone. And, I have been cautious till date about my son getting too cosy with technology. Children at his age flawlessly operate tablets. The disturbing part for me is, that this trend is announced with some pride. And despite the overbearing atmosphere that vibrates with the beats of ‘Join the crowd’, I have somehow managed to dodge the lure of technology. Of course, I have my reasons.
1. Technology is a good thing. It gives you answers instantly. It is like your companion who spoils you with myriad solutions. Importantly, it gives you answers wherever and whenever you need it. But, there is one thing technology CANNOT do! And that is, making a child question the world. Handing a tablet to a child aids the child in killing time. Whether the time has been killed or, has been used productively shall remain contentious. And as I observe my son’s questioning spree, I realized that his cue to ask questions came from his observation of the various mundane things of the daily grind. For instance, he is in awe of how a spider spins the web! A little Miss Muffet shall never introduce a spider to your child as a friend. But, mother nature does!
2. Technology creates wonders. No doubt! As a preschool teacher, I have immensely benefited from the Internet and, have engaged some of the methods in the classroom during my stint as a teacher. For instance, making caricatures out of alphabet and numbers is fun, right? However, it is good only for a teacher. I would not recommend exposing a child to a device and letting it demonstrate drawing techniques. A device can never substitute a teacher! And each day, I live in constant fear of technology replacing teachers some day. There are times, I am driven insane by the sheer thought of androids running the planet! And worse, what if they went rogue! ;)
3. Technology is a joyful addiction. Yes, it is. It is a drug one cannot do without! As adults, we are addicted to FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram and all. We enjoy browsing through websites and, sometimes the addiction consumes us. Unfortunately, many of us do not realize how drawn we are towards devices. More unfortunate is the fact that, our children notice the addiction and probably assume that either the device is an attractive object to fiddle with or, worse that the device has substituted them. For instance, imagine a normal scenario today wherein a child comes home from school and immediately grabs the tablet and starts playing rhymes! And think about the scenario decades back, when the mother or father or a grandparent at home used to receive the child coming from school with warm questions and smiles! There is a stark difference in human bonding, then and now. Somewhere, the device has managed to weaken the bond of a parent with a child. Notwithstanding how much a modern day parent swears that he or she is slogging away to give a good life to the child, the bitter fact stays – “A device CANNOT replace a human being’s presence!” Period.
As for the talk I was to have with my son, it did not happen. Apparently, my son did not like to operate phones or tablets after the first time. Yes, I did allow him to access my tablet and phone after he first told me about his friend. After a few swipes and clicks, he said candidly– “Your laptop is better. Big screen. We have a bigger one in the class, you know! It is called smart class!” Neither does he like cartoons. I figured out later that he loved to draw and doodle a lot. The intermittent peer influence was just a distraction that had left as subtly as it had arrived. But then, it remains a pertinent alarm that rattled my son’s world of questioning. I know he is born in the era of technology. I also realize with full conviction that it is going to be a part and parcel of his growing up. But at the same, I want him to grow with more people around. I want him to discover the beauty of human bonds. Importantly, I want him to realize that technology is just a tool to acquire knowledge and not a master to enslave our minds. My son is five. And, I know the parenting journey ahead is bumpy. But then, that is what parenting is all about - Raising a beautiful and an inspiring individual for a world that needs healing.
As far as technology is concerned, I have two words for it- Game on!