Electronics… A Wild & “Savage” Thought

Just a wild and “Savage” thought concerning cell phones, computers, game systems and other electronic communication devices…

What if we, as a society, took a second look at these items that have casually and almost by default, been placed in the hands of children and accurately identified them as the adult tools they are? Tools in which training, specific supervision, and maturity of age and development are prerequisites for their use. Perhaps our view of these items would then be similar to how our present culture views automobiles.

At one time a child could drive an automobile with little more than a requirement of reaching the floorboard to push on the gas and the brake. We soon learned from experience that the ability to use the tool appropriately had to be determined on more than just size. With this realization we began to use age, cognitive abilities, knowledge based testing, repeated demonstrations of expertise with an experienced driver, and a final test, given by a trained evaluator as the basis for receiving a license to drive. Today, with more data gathered through research, even more constraints are being placed on young, inexperienced drivers. Why the restrictions and updates to the process? It is because we have seen and experienced enough pain, destruction, and loss of potential through the accidents caused by the unforeseen risk that young drivers are not equipped to deal with and avoid.

As a school administrator with almost four decades of experience in education and counseling, I am now officially tired of watching our cognitively immature, inexperienced, untrained, and unsupervised minors being handed an adult tool. Through ignorance, lack of maturity and training they often make choices that can prove more frightening than a fender bender and more life changing than a broken bone or more expensive the price of a totaled car.

I am tired of seeing innocent bystanders emotionally injured and negatively affected by the push of a button. I am frustrated by the ease with which words are spoken “in private” on these devices by someone not yet old enough or capable enough to know and understand consequences for themselves and others. I am frustrated by the freedom these tools present to our children as they choose to send words and pictures with little thought of the power they yield. I have sat in my office and witnessed the result of these “accidents.” I have seen the tears, the injuries, the scars and lasting devastation to families brought on by the poor handling of this adult tool in a world where quick and emotional decisions often lead to unnecessary drama, pain, and even tragedy.

I know in this issue, as with many issues, there are questions that present themselves. In this particular issue there are questions and thoughts to consider such as freedom of speech, the “real world” we live in, and the idea that children can’t be “sheltered” and will “have to learn some time. “I believe that just because someone has to learn something sometime, it does not mean we dismiss “common sense.” It is essential we understand the importance of physical, mental, and emotional developmental milestones in a child’s life that are required for them to learn, achieve understanding and exercise self-discipline. It is only then that we can hope to be successful in purposefully and effectively undertaking the task of teaching children the responsibility of using these tools.

My hope is that AIE families might be attentive to the thoughts expressed above. I realize that there will be many students who will do just fine with communication devices. In fact most will do fine. It is interesting that it is the same with automobiles. Most people will never be in a wreck that will tragically change their life or someone else’s. Most people will arrive safely at their destination of choice. That is why we will continue to use vehicles in our daily lives and will continue to teach our children to use them. There is no reason to fear vehicles just as there is no reason to fear cell phones and electronics. It is, however, of necessity that we create in our children and ourselves a healthy respect and understanding of the power and potential for both the positive and negative results that these tools hold.

I also ask that you keep in mind that there has never been a healthy minded person get in a vehicle and expect an accident. There has never been a parent who would allow their child in a vehicle if they thought there might be an accident. Everyone always thinks it will be someone else and not them until it is. That is why we have laws and regulations. That is why we continue to update restrictions on young drivers. It is not because the majority of those young drivers are getting hurt or hurting others. It is because the ones who are hurt… are hurt.

It would be exciting, and perhaps life changing, if the parents of AIE students were to consider the positive possibilities of limiting phone and electronic usage for their families. It would be especially helpful if students who did not have cell phones were in the majority. This would, in turn, decrease the likelihood of other children being socially pressured to want a phone before their parents determined their need or readiness for it. If student interactions took place face to face and more often in the presence of guiding adults, less drama and social and emotional crisis would occur.
How different and perhaps more productive the response of a student who was upset or hurt about something in the moment would be, if they had to wait a few hours before they could react to another student about their feelings or emotions. How wonderful it would be if children spending the night with a friend did not have the ability to contact several other people, on their phone or a friend’s, with pictures and comments without parent’s knowledge or consent, only to regret it after the fact. What a change it would be in the dynamics of families if we could be families and have time where the outside world did not dictate if or when our children were part of their home activities and dialogues. How nice it would be and how much more safe it would be if parents chose not to use a phone as a replacement for a responsible adult in the lives of children. Many times they are dropped off at places where no one will supervise or guide them, and the children are told to call if there is a problem. How sad to get the call after the problem has occurred. You as a parent, and they as your child, are left to try to repair and/or cope with the results of an action taken, or the damage of words, pictures, threats or inappropriate information that was sent or received by your child.
I realize these are not popular thoughts for children or the adults in their world, but I can’t help but believe a parent thinking about this comparison between adult tools, such as automobiles, and electronic devices, would have to think a bit more cautiously about this matter. Electronic devices and cell phones with all of their bells and whistles are wonderful, but my experience has led me to believe that these items are not safe and secure enough to allow children to carelessly and casually “take them out for a spin” as a test to see if they are skilled enough to use them.

The need for maturity, appropriate cognitive development and strength in the area of abstract thinking, along with being educated with accurate information concerning laws and social boundaries should be considered at least minimum criteria for handing a child or even an adult a tool with as much power as electronic communication devices hold. In the case of children, even in the best of circumstances, caution, regular guidance and supervision by parents are a must. The difficulty with that is, how do parents use caution, guidance and supervision to protect their children from harm when the children seem to know more about the devices than the parent? I believe education in the above areas for both parent and child along with accurately identifying these electronic devices as adult tools, and treating them as such, will help prevent many difficult and dangerous circumstances from occurring. That has to be better than dealing with the situations after the fact, when sorry just isn’t enough.