The Age of the E-Baby

In a digital world, is it best to keep technology to a minimum around your kids? Or should we embrace it?

I’ve spent many years working in restaurants. One thing that always got me going — along with lousy tippers and lazy bussers — was parents who busted out the DVD player in the middle of dinner. Inevitably, me and another waitress would end up in the back talking about how it’s no wonder kids don’t do anything but watch TV these days, when TV comes with them everywhere they go. This rant would be followed by very self-righteous declarations of just what I’d do differently.

And then I became a parent.

Patience, like impulse control, is a learned skill, one far beyond the reaches of most teenagers, let alone my high-octane 12-month-old daughter. After indulging a friend and I by sitting relatively peacefully with us on the patio of the Terrapin last weekend, Coraline decided one minute more was not going to be possible as we waited for the check. Having cycled through our toy reserves too many times already, I felt I had two choices: let her fuss or distract her with something irresistible. I opted for the latter and quickly pulled up a video of Ernie singing “Rubber Ducky” on my iPhone. Coraline squealed with delight, our check came, and we were on our way. But I was mortified. I couldn’t believe I’d done that.

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I struggle with the technology-kid issue, wanting so badly for my daughter to not spend her childhood plugged into something. We don’t have cable, and make a point of only watching things when Coraline is asleep, so it’s safe to say she’s a TV-free toddler. But we spend an awful lot of time on our computers (I am a writer, after all), and that is not so easily kept from her. And then there’s the phone.

Since Coraline (like all babies) was seemingly born obsessed with gadgets — remote controls, cell phones, baby monitors, computer mouses, keyboards, anything with buttons and blinking lights — it doesn’t look like my Gollum-like devotion to my iPhone will dissuade her from their awesomeness. But when I read that most kids can’t identify a picture of an old fashioned phone (the kind with the curly-cue cord and buttons) I feel like I’m just greasing the chute with my own overuse, and before I know it Coraline’s beloved books will be gathering dust in the corner as she bargains for screen time.

But it is 2010, not 1982 (it’s amazing how much you can long for an era you barely remember) and as many an old timer would say, “It’s a whole other ballgame.” When exposure is inevitable out there in the big, bad 4G-HD world, is it best to try to keep it old-fashioned at home? Or is it like Santa or the Tooth Fairy — best to pull the Band-Aid off as quickly as possible and be glad you’re the one there to negotiate the emotional fallout?

Until I’ve figured this one out I’m keeping YouTube to myself, but I’m curious what other parents think about this. What’s your policy at home on cell phones, computers, and television?

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