J. R.R. Tolkien knew a thing or two about the human potential to destroy ourselves. In his 1937 fantasy masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings (LOTR), a simple hobbit named Smeagol, fishing in the bucolic shire, dives into a pond after a hooked fish pulls his pole away. Smeagol finds a beautiful golden ring in the silt. Entranced, he scoops it up and surfaces. This ring — the One Ring — holds mysterious, corrupting powers and makes its owner wretched. Smeagol’s so susceptible to its power, he transforms into “Gollum,” an isolated, twisted, pathetic creature, who loves and hates the ring just as he loves and hates himself. “My precious!” he hisses, obsessed by the ring, checking left, checking right, paranoid. Addiction.
When my second son discovered Xbox, my husband and I joked that he turned into Gollum when we’d ask him to take a break. He’d stomp around and not want to do anything else for a good 30 minutes or so. Back on Xbox, he’d be happy again, and woe to those who’d try to stop him. If you have a child like this, you know what I mean. Parents everywhere deal with little ones who throw tantrums when their iPads are taken away. We can’t go anywhere without being tethered to our tech. What a mess!
It’s estimated that 10 – 15 percent of the population have an addictive personality, but I’ll wager it’s much worse than that.
Last January, two major investors asked Apple to figure out how to help parents limit their kids’ use of iPhones and iPads, and I’m glad. We laugh about our “addictions,” but they’re not really funny, are they? Meanwhile, early childhood development doctors say too much tech for little children hinders the face-to-face time they need to grow healthily and to build critical human connections.
One idea being looked at is encouraging users to set tech devices to grayscale in order to make them less appealling and stimulating. Think about sugary cereal boxes with all those colors. Would your toddler sprint for the Fruit Loops if the box was black and white?
At one point I realized my little addict needed help. He couldn’t control what happened to him when he NEEDED to play Xbox. I started by putting a chart up at home and letting him earn playing time. I also began involving myself more in his other interests: army men figurines, Hot Wheels cars, music, soccer.
It’s our job to help our kids discover the wonder of the real world around them — and it has to happen in person. Real-world experiences can’t be experienced on any screen, anywhere.