Visions of Blackberries danced in their heads…

Who has time for the news anymore? Certainly not me. I’m too busy detailing the fascinating trivia of my life here to read the newspaper. But hey, look, it’s the NYTimes on my phone–shiny! Gee, I wonder where 3B gets his “Look, a shiny thing!” instinct.

So, today the Gray Lady ran a story on what the good kids are getting for Christmakwanzukkah this year:

Technology has been slowly permeating the toy business for a number of
years, but the trend has been accelerating. On Wednesday, six of the nine
best-selling toys for 5- to 7-year-olds on Amazon.com were tech gadgets. For all
of 2006, three of the top nine toys for that age group were tech-related.

The trend concerns pediatricians and educators, who say excessive
screen time stifles the imagination. But more traditional toys — ones without
computer monitors, U.S.B. cables and memory cards — are seen by many children as obsolete.

“If you give kids an old toy camera, they look at you like you’re
crazy,” said Reyne Rice, a toy trends specialist for the Toy Industry
Association. Children “are role-playing what they see in society,” she
added.

That seems to be the case even when youngsters are not old enough to
have any clue how to use actual gadgets.

That’s certainly not the case in the Bradstein Household, where tonight I held a long and fascinating conversation with 3B while he was in the bath on our crayon phones. For the record, everything was sounding very green on his end of the line, although they sounded blue to me.

But I can see that coming. Even though 3B doesn’t covet our phones any more than he does a crayon that he makes into a phone–or a wallet, car key, or book, all of which have also doubled for phones in a pinch–the day will surely come when we can’t hand him a copy of Go, dog. Go! and tell him to place a call. Every day, he understands technology more clearly. Just today, when Mama had me talk to him on the phone from work, he said, “Hi.” to me for the very first time. (Before you start gushing, he followed that up with, “Bye.”)

And, despite our vows to not expose 3B to any screens until he’s 2–except on planes, where I would encase him in a mini-Cinerama dome showing a Boohbah marathon, if I could–he’s been exposed. Any time we pull out our phones, or look up an address on our computer while we’re holding him as we head out, or sometimes just to see what his reaction is. Ms. K also shows a little TV in the early morning, although 3B’s only ever seen our TV on when we’ve had babysitters over. So, he’s been exposed to plenty of technology, but I’m still not seeing a need to buy him any toy with a screen.

Then again, one of my big problems with this article is that it often lumps kids together as a unified group when, in reality, a five-year old is a much different person than a ten-year old, and a two-year old is nothing like either one of them. So when the article talks about children behaving in a particular way, it’s hard to tell exactly which children they’re speaking of. And it is the case that pediatricians generally agree that limited TV after a certain age probably won’t do much damage to a kid’s imagination, creativity, and intelligence. All of this makes it hard to determine from this article just what is best for parents to do this Christmakwanzukkah season.

But, I think that until 3B is at least able to hold a fork without sticking it in his eye once during a whole meal, that all of this tech is a little beyond him. Besides, he’s still at that age where he can make it all up on his own–which brings me back to my Aunt M’s point of view about exposure and acquisition. She was talking about boys and guns, but the point generalizes nicely to most tech toys; Aunt M simply asked, “How can you keep kids away from “playing guns” when they can make one out of a stick, a flower stem, their finger, or any other object? And why buy gun toys for them when they’re just going to make them out of their fingers anyway?” I feel about the same way in regards to these tech toys–there’s no way to keep kids away from technology entirely, short of becoming Amish, and why buy them iPhones when all they really need is a board book spray painted black?

After all, some of my favorite toys from my childhood were toy phones, TVs, and radios, all of which were high tech for the day. I have vivid, fond memories of getting to play with 45s on a small, kids phonograph, which was about as cool as iPods, back in the day. So, it’s not like we’re the first generation of parents to confront the intersection of tech and toys, although I don’t know if the answers about this junction have become any more clear over time.

How about you? Will Christmakwanzukkah bring a new laptop to every tiny, outstretched hand in your household? Or will it be simpler toys…wooden blocks? Fire trucks? Doll house? Lawn darts?

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  • I have just the thing in mind for
    3B if only I can find it, and it does not have a screen or batteries. Your sister and I thought he would love it. You can thank me later. My kids already received the new telly, which the largest of the three spends the most time with. The real children will be celebrating with new skis and lift tickets.

  • I well i know what 3B’s getting from our house and it’s hardly an original object, or is it? Muhaha, you’ll just have to wait and see. But i do think he (and you too) will like it. (After all, I suggested it. [insert big neck flexing grin])

    As for me i already know what my mommy’s getting me for Christmas…because i already gots it! What child wouldn’t love some good foul weather gear for Christmas? I know i do!

  • After reading your comments, why am I now scared of Christmas?

  • Christy

    Two of Jack’s favorite toys are already a small kiddie phone and our actual remote control. Of course, I took the batteries out of the remote. We wouldn’t want him changing the channel during Thanksgiving football.

  • 3B loves the remote too. He uses it to make half of his phone calls.

  • How do you keep a kid from using his imagination to turn his finger into a gun? Technology provides the answer: Furnish him with all the screens in the world, until his imagination atrophies and finally drops from his body.

    Speaking of the really small screen, I’m holding you responsible for making me go back to my Woodstock collection and add 12 minutes of “I’m Going Home” to my iPod. Along with Joe C. and some other ragged gems.

    Pretty clearly kids play with what they see their parents play with. I learned to read a newspaper from watching Dad and Mom do the same. Books likewise. Computer screens are different, because their content is customized by an individual user. Pick up most newspapers from here to Bangor, and you’ll get a similar mix. But when 3B sees you reading the NYT on the computer screen, will he associate that with the content or will his learning only go as far as the physical medium? Will he learn to read the NYT, or will he just learn to sit for hours at the screen?

    One way or another, he’s got a good Papa and Mama looking out for him, and their effect is going to temper his approach to any technology that comes along.

  • You picked a big topic for the Waldorf world. The consensus there seems to be that young kids (and that really extends almost all the way to high school) need to be in motion and using their imaginations. The very young (under 7) need to also be imitating what they see around them.

    Kids will work with whatever you provide them. And particularly what they see you work with. So of course kids love to play phone, camera, etc. But I really think it’s missing the point to give them actual technology. They’re just imitating and using their imaginations – why stifle that by giving them something pre-made or single function?

    As for kids thinking certain toys are “obsolete” sounds to me like they’ve heard their parents talk like that.

  • Glad to be of service!

  • Pick on the other toys if you will, but little ones with digital cameras take the most interesting pictures. At least mine do, and so do my sister’s kids. We can each tell who had the camera by the pictures they shot, from self portraits to still life arrangements of stuffed animals to the inside of body orifices to the inside of inanimate objects. Who thought the inside of the washing machine was an object d’art?

  • I have to agree with you, CAGirl, about the cameras. I think it’s endless fun to see tiny windows into kids’ views of the world. Some of my favorite photos from our wedding are the ones that Skyler took–of his Grammy’s hand, for example. It made me think of how often he holds it, how often it holds him, and how it connects the two of them. It’s also right at his eye level, which made it easy for him to take a picture of, but still, he chose it out of all the other items at his eye level.