Why Smartphones and Tablets Aren’t as Antisocial as We Think (or at least they don’t have to be)

My daughters, whose birthdays are only a couple of days apart, both got tablets this year as their gift from us. I worried about this, as we stood in the desolation of a middle-of –the-week Best Buy. A blue shirt couldn’t be seen for miles in the sea of sober grey displays of electronics, so I had plenty of time to contemplate the decision.

Was the price right?

How were the reviews?

Are my kids ready for tablets of their own?

What will I do when they shut themselves in their room and never wish to snuggle with me again in preference for their new electronic lives?

But we bought them anyway. The girls were thrilled, of course. After putting every parental block imaginable in place, I waited for the mind-numbing solitude of personal electronic devices to take over my house. I waited for the realization that I hadn’t seen my kids all weekend because they had been blissfully enveloped in the world of My Talking Tom, Subway Surf, and Agent Alice.

I know what you’re thinking. Just tell them they have a certain amount of time on the tablet, and that’s that. Yes, I can do that. Yes, I will and I have done that with all sorts of electronic entertainment, such as their Nintendo DS’s and television. But that’s not my point. Have you seen those pictures of a couple out at a restaurant, each of them on their smart phones and not talking to each other? That’s the kind of lifestyle I fear for my children: one where they are so involved in their screen time that they forget about face time. The time limits I set are only going to apply while they’re under my roof, after all.

Here’s what really happened: Once I had their tablets all set up and ready to go for them, I found myself in the middle of the couch between two girls. They were each on their own tablet, but they were doing something unexpected: continuing to interact with each other and with me! They talked to each other about the games they were playing. My youngest had (with my permission) downloaded a coloring app and wanted me to play it with her. My oldest talked to me in detail about the mystery she was solving on Agent Alice, and asked me to help her find clues. In short, we were spending just as much quality time together as we ever have.

Tablets and smart phones don’t have to be as isolating as we often think. The incident with my daughters made me think about how my husband and I interact around personal devices. Imagine its Friday night. He’s on his iPad, and I’m (most likely) reading. Sounds like two boring parents who have nothing better to do and nothing to do with each other, right? Wrong. He’ll be watching YouTube and sharing his favorite videos with me, or shopping for campers on Craiglist and telling me about them. Even though I’ve been called ‘inaccessible’ while I’m reading before, he knows that he can stop me any time he wants to because I’m more than happy to step back out of the fictional world to spend some quality time with him.

In short, smart phones and tablets (and anything else) are what you make them out to be. You can use them to keep yourself separate from the world, or they can be a whole new conversation starter.

happy mother holding her child

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