Tech savvy kiddos

IMG_2492My three-year-old, Liam, is currently obsessed with trash trucks. He can hear them and spot them a mile away. At the park earlier this week, he glued himself to the fence watching three different trash trucks drive by.

A loving Granmy has now collected a fleet of toy Tonka trash trucks for him–front loader, side loader, back loader, etc.–and Liam can identify them all by name (the toys and the real trucks as they drive by on the street).

And then there are the videos. Did you know you can find online video clips of trash trucks driving by; kids (and adults) playing with toy trash trucks; educational trash-truck cartoons that teach colors, numbers, and letters; and trash trucks at the dump doing their thing? Today, when I did a search on YouTube for “trash truck,” it came up with 510,000 videos. I’ve found clips that last as long as 30 minutes and have as many as 13 million views. REALLY? Maybe I’m going about my mission the wrong way! Perhaps I should have a talking trash truck teach kids about saying ‘no’ to porn. Actually … that would make sense on several levels …

In the wake of Liam’s obsession, a few things have come to my attention. I’m sharing because they don’t apply to just to my son and me. It’s all about society and where we are headed:

1. My son knows how to navigate the Internet. Did I mention that Liam is 3 years old? On occasion I have watched, mesmerized, as this tiny person standing on tip-toe on a desk chair reaches up and navigates with the mouse. He knows how to play, pause, and select a new clip. He even knows when and how to skip the ad before the clip starts.

Wait. What? When did my child learn how to use the Internet? It’s not like I’ve been plunking him in front of the computer for years, letting him entertain himself. The only thing I can figure is that he has learned by watching me do it. It is a strong reminder to me that my THREE-year-old needs constant supervision while he’s on the computer. What a crazy world we live in!

2. In a problem-solving situation, my child’s first instinct is to turn to technology.  The other day, Liam was in the kitchen helping me clean up after a meal. He picked up a piece of trash and said, “We should recycle this one, Mommy!” I informed him that we actually don’t have a recycling service. (Don’t hate me, okay?) He asked why, and I told him I didn’t know of a service nearby that can come to our house. “We can ask Siri,” he replied matter-of-factly. I think I laughed out loud.

Later in the week while potty-training, Liam pushed the button on my cell phone and instructed Siri, “Give me a star on my potty chart!”(Yes, there’s an app for that. About fifty, actually.) He seemed baffled that she couldn’t do that for him. Seeing this as a teaching moment, I said, “Wow! Siri doesn’t always know all the answers, huh?” I hope he will remember that.

3. My little boy would rather watch a video of a  kid playing with a toy than play with that same toy himself. Okay, I’m not gonna lie. This is disturbing. I’ve mentioned that Liam has a literal fleet of toy trash trucks. Well, as it turns out, some of the online trash truck videos are just recordings of kids playing with these same toys.

If you are a mom, you know the kind of clip I’m talking about. Your kid is playing and you take a home video, thinking, “Aw, she’s so cute. Someday we will watch this again and remember what she was like when she was little.” But home videos like this are online. Do you ever think, “Cool! Some kid I don’t know is going to want to watch this over and over again!” Uh? No, I would never think that. But that’s what happens at my house. When it does, I whisper to Liam, “You have that truck. Wouldn’t you rather go play with your truck?” NO! He fusses back at me, and then remains glued to the screen. Whoah. The first time this happened, I had an enormous epiphany that my kid needs to get out more. Since then, we have been spending more time in the sandbox. And I make it a point to get off my phone and play with him in that sandbox too! When did this become a hard thing to do?

4. I’m not the only mom in this situation. I like to take my boys to a specific park. It’s fun to watch Liam dig in the dirt and perk up his ears when he hears a trash truck come by to empty the nearby dumpster. (Bonus!) As we’ve mingled with other mommies and little boys at the park, I’ve learned that Liam isn’t the only kid with a trash truck obsession. I started talking to another mother about it the other day, and as it turns out, her boy is also obsessed with the online videos. “We had to cut him off,” she said. “It was just too much. He would sit there for hours and then cry when we turned it off.” Her little guy is two years old, and he’s not allowed to watch anymore. “Only on the potty,” his mom said. “And actually that’s not working either.”

So, is anyone else uncomfortable with the observations I’ve made?  Just for a recap, here’s what I’ve learned: My three-year-old is already pretty proficient with a mouse. He knows how to navigate around my computer and my phone. If he has a problem, he goes to technology. He’d often prefer to watch a video of someone else doing something fun rather than do it himself, and it is hard to pull him away when he’s watching. Most importantly, he is not the only kid with these patterns. These are marks of his generation.

So … trash trucks are a pretty innocent topic. But what happens when a child of this generation becomes curious about sex? If we apply the patterns I’ve observed and add in the availability and addictive nature of pornography, we pretty much have the perfect storm.

But what’s the answer to this conundrum? Do we cut off our kids from technology? Do we make phones and computers off-limits until our children become teenagers or adults? (Keep in mind that computer proficiency is now a part of the academic evaluation of kindergarteners in some schools.)

What do you think?


5 thoughts on “Tech savvy kiddos

  1. Melody,

    That is terrifying, especially the part about computer skills being part of the kindergarten curriculum. I do think we need to limit kids’ exposure to technology when they’re little. Get them well grounded in reading first and let them see us reading for pleasure. I don’t think we have to eliminate computers, TVs, phones, etc., but let us teach our kids where the “Off” buttons are and that they are to be used. And, as you note, let’s also teach them that these devices do not have all the answers, and many of the answers they offer may be wrong, or too adult, or not a good fit for one’s family.

    Part of the solution, I think, is to talk to our kids early, often, and easily about sex. If they sense we’re uncomfortable about it, they’re more likely to turn to the computer. I remember bookmarking a couple reliable sites (Planned Parenthood, Mayo Clinic) for my son and telling him if he had questions he didn’t feel he could ask me, he could check those sites. I also told him his pediatrician would be happy to talk to him, and his grandmother, and his uncle. I think your sons have the same sorts of family resources (and are much younger than my kids), but I am always amazed at the number of families who still do not discuss sex and love and porn and babies and birth control and and and…

    By the way, we found out from our son that manga and some other sites devoted to animation offer links to other animation that seem innocent (what could be wrong about visiting a site devoted to Disney characters?), but were anything but.

    I know a middle-school librarian who has a three-second rule for kids who come across inappropriate sites. They get one second to realize what they’ve found, one second to satisfy their curiosity, and one second to call him over to show upon what they’ve stumbled. As long as they adhere to the rule, no one gets in trouble. That second moment they get, the one that matter-of-factly acknowledges their natural curiosity, seems to remove most of the stigma and embarrassment as well as some of the allure.

    My suggestions make it all sound easy, but it’s not. There’s too much out of our control, too much that comes at our children before we’re aware (all those lovely commercials for fixing our bodies for instance, or movie trailers that aren’t as PG as we would like, or peers who have found porn sites or magazines or books).

    All we can do is be careful and afraid.



  2. I think kids learn things in the pre-existence that they will need to get them through their life on earth. I marvelled a few years ago when my teenage son got something pre- smartphone and right out of the box knew how to use all the bells and whistles. I asked if he needed to read the directions. No. He was already proficient and good to go. I was just as amazed then as you are now.


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