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Harker: Technology and children—not always a bad union

January 17, 2017

This past Christmas I was able to spend a week at home in Youngstown, Ohio, with my family. This was a rare opportunity for me, considering I can’t drop everything and make a three-hour drive every weekend. I was especially excited to see everyone while they opened their presents. As the oldest sibling in a divorced family, I have a 19-year-old sister, a 17-year-old brother, a 13-year-old step-sister and a half-sister that’s only 10.


When the Big Day arrived, we all gathered around the tree and dove straight into the massive pile of presents in front of us. When the initial carnage was completed and we thought all the presents were gone, my mom pulled out a small box from under her chair and passed it around the room with the instructions, “One last one for Christina.”


Christina is my youngest sister, having just turned 10 a few days before Christmas. She ripped quickly through the paper on the box and then started to shriek. It was a brand new iPhone 7.


At first I was irritated and kind of jealous. That has a lot to do with me carrying around the iPhone 6 while my sister (who is 10 years younger than me!) gets a brand-new, top-of-the-line phone. But after awhile, my attitude started to change.

My biggest issue about going to Toledo for my college education is that it’s so hard to have my siblings growing up so far away from me. I feel like every time I see them , they have changed completely. Especially the younger two siblings, who seem to grow a foot taller every other day. I don’t get to see them on a regular basis because we have such busy lives.
However, since my younger sister has gotten a phone, I speak to her every single day. I even get to visually see her, since her new favorite thing is FaceTime. Before, I felt like I was missing everything. Now she calls me simply to say “Hi!”, even when nothing is going on.


This reconnection with my sister is something that I didn’t know I needed until I had it. I was always under the impression that technology ruins childhoods, but now I see the wide possibilities it can open up. It can lead to a closeness that was slowly slipping from my grasp.


Not only has this been a positive thing for our sibling relationship, it has also allowed my sister to reconnect with family all over the country. Our uncle and his family moved to Pennsylvania a couple of years ago, and it was hard on her because they were all very close. Now she gets to talk to him and her cousins whenever she wants to. But the perks don’t end at mere communication.

 


Now that my sister has a phone, my mother and stepfather have the ability to more closely regulate where she is. They have a family app that allows them to set boundaries for her, as well as receive notifications when she comes to or leaves the house. For a household with two busy, working parents with a very independent little girl, this was a sigh of relief.


She’s safer, she’s more connected with her family and she’s happier than ever. A lot of people will still argue that these things don’t outweigh the negative effects of giving children technology like this at such a young age, but I disagree.


The main issue always seems to be that they are going to spend all of their time on their phone, that they will turn into lifeless robots glued to their screens and obsessed with the Internet and social media. Yet, as my sister is more connected than ever before, it seems to be the exact opposite. She spends more time outside, she gets to be with her friends more and my parents feel more comfortable giving her these freedoms because they know she will stay safe.


I think that the biggest issue is a fear of change, but today’s kids are not the same kids that grew up years ago. They are different, and as time changes we have to keep evolving in how we look at the world. These advancements were not available in earlier years, so to judge a childhood’s worth before and after these things were available is completely worthless. I think we need to reexamine the way we view technology in relationship to childhood and realize that, while too much of a good thing can lead to disaster, writing off all technology as bad actually undermines the positive opportunities for families like mine. Simply, don’t knock it till you’ve actually seen what it can do.


Jessica Harker is a third-year communication student and the IC’s Editor-in-Chief.

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