Mom, would you please pass me that (e-)book?
By Anesia Rachmadewi.
Books form a significant and memorable part of my childhood. Folklore collections fed me with fascinating tales and legends of my homeland, illustrated biographies introduced me to inspiring life stories of eminent world personalities such as Sir Isaac Newton and Helen Keller, while Erich Kästner’s children literature allowed me to indulge in wanderlust and seemingly endless adventures. Books were, and continue to be, windows to the world and possibilities through which I was never tired of looking.
Now call me old fashioned, but the increasingly common scene of toddlers fiddling with an iPhone or an iPad makes me wary. Is technology taking over the roles and responsibilities of an early childhood educator from parents?
Only less than a decade ago (and perhaps till today), we were afraid that baby-sitters and nannies would replace parents in instilling important values in children during their formative years. Baby-sitters and nannies were at home when the parents were hard at work, missing the kids’ first smile and first step in the meantime. In many instances, not unnaturally, baby-sitters and nannies became the first person whom the kids look for and look up to.
Gradually, parents come to realise that they need to reinstate their roles in the early development stages of their children, especially when the nannies’ values and interests are not aligned with theirs. As a result, parents strive for greater work-life balance, even when it means completing work assignments and spending more time with their little ones in the same breath.
Unfortunately, the mounting pressure that comes from today’s rat race does not always bode well with family relationships. As tempers shorten, parents (who are human after all) and the general public’s threshold of child misbehaviour declines. Nobody wants to deal with incessant crying and tantrums, especially in a crowded train or a shopping centre. To keep this scene at bay, many parents resort to the latest gadgets in the hope of keeping their tots entertained and well behaved – at least in public.
I am not advocating that in no circumstance should children be allowed to play with gadgets. Obviously, there may be educational applications in them which, for instance, help children recognise alphabets and grasp mathematical concepts. Parents should, however, remember that these gadgets should not be thrust the role of a primary childhood educator. Their use should be exercised with care and games should not be the first thing that parents turn to the moment children demand attention.
Drawing from my own childhood experience, I am a firm believer that it is worthwhile to cultivate an interest in reading from an early age. Parents should not be discouraged from nurturing this interest simply because it takes relatively long time and plenty of energy. If anything, technology should facilitate this process. Needless to mention, the benefits of reading accrue a lifetime.
I hope that it is not wishful thinking that one day I would see a six-year old devouring an e-book on a tablet computer.