Would You Let Apple Babysit Your Child?

Technology and kids: How much is too much? How soon is too soon?

Baby with ipad

Photo: Veer | Konstantin Yuganov

In India, a 17-year-old girl committed suicide after her parents restricted her use of Facebook and her cell phone use.

And though it sounds extreme – and it is – it’s not entirely foreign, and is certainly a sign of the times: The New York Times published a story on Monday touting “Baby’s First iPhone App” as a new modern milestone.

I was in college when Facebook first emerged and since then, the social media landscape has exploded, providing ever new ways to overshare. It makes me uncomfortable, mostly because the modern child will never know a world without the world wide web, a time when “you had to be there.”

There are kids whose pictures are available in a Google image search well before they even know their own names.

Sharing has become an expected, if not compulsory, activity. No one seems to bat an eyelash at the idea that a newborn would have its own Facebook account (I know two instances of this, personally); or that an excited dad would upload pictures of an anxious almost-mom walking up and down the aisles of the maternity ward, IV drip in tow, trying to get her water to break. (Much to my chagrin, I’ve seen this a few times, too.)

Before we can talk about the kids’ behaviors, we can point to the way that the parents have employed the Internet and the apps that navigate it. Throughout the week, my Facebook timeline is flooded with updates that make me a bit uneasy. People provide intimate details about their personal lives: Upcoming nuptials, pictures of expectant bellies, and sometimes even sonograms that signal the glee and excitement of adults who share too much with a broad audience of people they once knew but who may not be so invested anymore.

“Update” and “refresh” have become a regular part of our conversation and built into the ways we communicate with one another. Loading up a Nick Jr. app on the iPad is the new way for parents to soothe a cranky child while out in public.

“I know if I need Zoe to be quiet for an hour, I can hand her the iPad and I won’t hear from her,” said Dr. Laurel Glaser, a Philadelphia physician and mother of two, in the Times piece.

Today’s technology is so intuitive, it’s no wonder that teens, already looking for ways to express themselves, gravitate to it so readily. Growing up in the digital age, a world without apps, is a foreign one. According to a Pew research report on teens and Internet use, “Girls continue to dominate most elements of content creation. Some 35 percent of all teen girls blog, compared with 20 percent of online boys, and 54 percent of wired girls post photos online compared with 40 percent of online boys. Boys, however, do dominate one area — posting of video content online. Online teen boys are nearly twice as likely as online girls…to have posted a video online somewhere where someone else could see it.”

The danger of all of this, of course, has been made clear in cases of cyberbullying, and even more horrendous crimes like Steubenville. Kids and teens, raised by parents who are still learning how to navigate the limits and social mores of new Internet technology, are figuring it out as they go along. Add to that the natural levels of immaturity and inexperience found in children of any age, and it’s a recipe for imbalanced expectations for what purpose the technology really serves in their lives.