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You can’t learn to count by painting your face

My son set my phone to Chinese this weekend, which probably means he reverted it to “factory settings.”

To most of us, that would be an enormous problem, you know, with the language barrier and all. But that isn’t what bothers me most. What really concerns me is that it took me two years – as a full-grown adult – to figure out how to use the phone’s flashlight dimmer. Meanwhile, this kid who still can’t get a spoonful of chopped spaghetti into his actual mouth, this barely toddler who doesn’t understand that a square block won’t fit in a round hole, apparently has a full-fledged profile on both YouTube and Amazon Prime.

If the U.S. government or Russians – same difference – happen to be monitoring my movements based on smart phone data analysis, they likely believe I am just now learning the alphabet, and I may or may not have an affinity for creepy cartoon kids who sing about mommy shark, do do da do do, mommy shark, do do… If you don’t know the tune, look it up. It’s guaranteed to stick with you for hours and days and months and restless nights. You’ll thank me later, but you’re judging me now, aren’t you?

“How dare you let your son sit around, become obese with diabetes, ruin his pupils and stunt his growing mind by exposing him to screen time?” That’s exactly what you just said to yourself, isn’t it?

Listen, I know I’m a bad parent. I have done horrible things, like letting my two sons, age 5 and 2, ride around the neighborhood without sitting in their car seats. I also struggle to see the dire importance of brushing teeth twice a day when all those mini-teeth, eventually, will wind up under a pillow anyway. Just this weekend, I forgot to give my oldest son lunch. I did, however, stop at a gas station and buy him an ice cream sandwich.

So you’re welcome to judge, but I happen to think there may be some good in letting my youngest learn how to use my phone. Actually, we’re long past letting him learn – this kid has it mastered.

For instance, Cal really likes these animated YouTube characters who sing alphabet songs. The problem with YouTube is that every cartoon starts with a paid advertisement. If you understand this video platform, you know there’s a tiny button in the bottom right corner of the screen that allows you to skip the commercial after five seconds.

Well, as soon as Cal opens the YouTube app and selects his cartoon of choice, his tiny finger (the one that can’t hold a spoon) begins pressing the “Skip Ad” button until the Johnson & Johnson ad disappears and his beloved Mommy Shark begins dancing under bubbles.

When we were children, things were different. We picked words off of billboards. If we were in the car at night, we got points for finding cars without headlights. Heck, we used to play a game called “Got That Bug,” in which the child who first spotted a Volkswagen Beetle was awarded a point. Oh, and it was big bucks if you could find a Beetle that was missing a headlight.

When we were kids, we went outside and dismantled pieces of our dads’ power tools. We lost screwdrivers and hammers and nails under the tires of cars that didn’t even have seatbelts – much less little iron hooks that held car seats in place.

Sure, we were forced to use our minds and our creativity a bit more than today’s generation of children, but now that I think about it, what were we actually using our minds to do? Pick out rounded-off cars driving down the road? Ruining our parents’ tools? Throwing sticks at each other during war games (I played them because we all thought the Russians might invade at any time).

Meanwhile, I’m standing in my kitchen watching my youngest son learn how to operate a mini-computer on his own, while at the same time learning the alphabet, and I’m concerned about his health?

There’s probably a good mix between technology and the great outdoors, but I’m more convinced now than ever that a little screen time isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Last week, my 2-year-old counted to 20 (granted he missed both 8 and 18). He didn’t learn that from finger painting his face. He learned it by skipping an ad and watching a creepy kid do the same thing.

 

Email: JMcElvy@thegreensheet.com

Jonathan McElvy