Matt D’Antuono is a physics teacher in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and seven children. He holds bachelor’s degrees in physics and philosophy, a master’s degree in special education, and is working on a master’s degree in philosophy at Holy Apostles in Cromwell, Connecticut. He returned to the Catholic Church in 2008. He is the author of A Fool’s Errand: A Brief, Informal Introduction to Philosophy for Young Catholics, The Wiseguy and the Fool and Philosophy Fridays. On YouTube you can find him at DonecRequiescat and his family at MisterD418.
In the first part of this blog I contrasted the use of technology with authentic encounter, for which we were made and by which we develop most fully as humans. In this second part, I want to respond to a couple of common objections my wife and I have heard from our friends in support of giving their children cellphones.
Parents sometimes say that they give their children smart devices because they need to know how to use technology in today’s world.
Firstly, the activities for which devices are usually used are not technologically advanced or productive. Many of my students still struggle with quickly mastering basic programming tasks and new applications. Most have no idea how their devices actually work. Users of technology are not necessarily gaining expertise in how to use it well. This is abundantly evident when it comes to the use of the calculator. It is not uncommon for a student to have an expensive and sophisticated calculator which they use only for arithmetic or for a student to punch a wrong button, get a completely nonsensical answer, and yet record what the calculator reads without thinking critically about what they got.
Secondly, if it is pointed out that people in today’s society need to know how to use technology, then we must point out that they also need to know how to drive, but that does not mean that we hand over the keys to the car at age 5, or 8 or 12. We give privilege according to maturity, and in the eternal perspective an untethered device is more dangerous than a car and, thus, requires more wisdom and maturity.
Parents also say sometimes that they don’t want their kids to be the only ones without a phone. My question is: Why? Don’t we want our children to be okay with being alone if they have to be? Will circumstances not likely present themselves throughout our children’s lives where they will need to be confident going entirely against the flow of the culture or their peer group? It is a terrible thing to train our children to always go along with the crowd. Social pressure is most probably the worst reason to do anything. Our children should learn how to stand alone when it is necessary.
Parents sometimes say that they don’t want their children to be bored, and children often complain that they are bored. This complaint of boredom often comes with a request for more screen time so that they can be entertained. Once again, boredom is not such a bad thing. I would much rather my children be bored and learn to use their own imagination than learn to seek continual passive entertainment. Boredom is not a result of circumstances; boredom is a result of a state of character. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.”
Are there times when it is justifiable to sit our children down in front of a screen? My own answer to that is yes, but each parent should discern carefully for himself. But that screen time should be as minimal as possible and with careful attention paid to what is being consumed.
Would you allow a garbage company to dump their trash in your house? Would you invite the public works to direct the town’s sewers into your living room? The minds and hearts of our children are palaces, worth infinitely more than any mere home. What lengths should we not go to in order to safeguard their health?