Dear Geek Ethicist—
I just read about the new parental control app for Kindle Fire that has a “timer feature to lock Kids Place after specified amount of time.”
Come on: isn’t this just making lazy parents lazier? I get that parents want to block certain content, but auto shut off is taking it a little too far.
You’re the ethicist: what do you think?
Annoyed At Lazy Parents
There are two ways to answer this letter: as a non-parent and as a parent.
As a non-parent, I would commiserate with you on the lazy parents of the digital native generations and conjecture about the kinds of kids these parents are raising.
As a parent, I would have a different perspective. First, Parenting is not a vocation for the lazy. If you need proof of this, spend the day with a friend who has kids. Kids, plural. And make sure you spend the whole day. No time off, no coffee breaks: an entire, grueling day. When you see that parents are not even allowed the luxury of a bathroom break without company, you will begin to understand how tiring parenting is.
Assuming a non-lazy parent, why would s/he need auto-shut off for the kids’ devices?
Mom is about to take the Kindle Fire away from little Johnny when:
A.) The dog pukes on the floor
B.) A pot on the stove boils over
C.) A neighbor knocks on the door
D.) Johnny’s sister starts crying/screaming
E.) Johnny’s little brother falls down and bloodies his lip
You know what the answer to that is?
F.) ALL OF THE ABOVE. Mom returns to the task of plying the Kindle away from Johnny after the hour or so it takes to deal with each of those episodes. Whereas, if the Kindle had auto-shut off? One last thing Mom (or Dad) has to remember to do, on top of laundry, dishes, breakfast/lunch/dinner, cleaning, shopping, etc.
The crying and screaming that Johnny will inevitably do when his toy shuts off: Mom will have to hear that and deal with it just as she would if she had physically removed the Kindle from his grip. No ease of pain there, just the convenience of knowing something will happen when a parent wants it to happen…for a change.
A recent survey from Northwestern University indicates that technology isn’t making parenting easier, it’s making the job more difficult.
Which brings me to another question: Why do parents let their kids use technology?
1.) It’s convenient. In an article for the NYTimes, Steve Almond admits: “we park the kiddos in front of SpongeBob because it’s convenient for us….” Notice he doesn’t say it makes his life easier. But sometimes as a parent you just need a few moments of peace so you can think…and drink enough coffee to deal with the rest of the day.
2.) All the other kids are doing it. I mean, your kid can’t be the only kid in kindergarten who is unable to work an iPad, right? It might say something about your child’s intelligence….
3.) Technology is not all bad. Check out this article on the seven myths about young children and technology: there are good and bad things about children’s technology use. The good things are really good and the bad things aren’t as bad as we think.
4.) Learning in Disguise! Technology gives children access to information and learning tools, in the guise of fun and games.
5.) Overuse is a myth. Screen time, contrary to popular belief, is well managed by parents. In a 2013 national survey by Northwestern University, average screen time of a child one year old and younger was one hour, fifteen minutes; for those children aged two to five years old, average screen time was 3 hours. If parents were truly lazy, those numbers would be much, much, much higher.
Technology gives parents amazing tools for streamlining their job(s), educating their children and enriching everyone’s lives. Moms connect on social media, like Facebook and collaboratively solve problems, share advice and swap/barter/sell used and new baby gear. Parents make use of the Internet and YouTube to figure out how to fix the *#&$% broken stroller, plan a healthy dinner, treat a bee sting and help Junior come up with an idea for his science project. Parents can have diapers delivered to their door monthly (one less thing to think about!), find the best local service providers, and research learning apps.
For all the potential pitfalls of technology, there are equal advantages. People of all kinds, not just parents, have to learn to navigate them. There will always be lazy people: we can’t blame laziness on technology. This goes for parents and non-parents alike.
Emily Cantin researched, co-authored and created original artwork for this article.