Traverse City Record-Eagle

Evelyn Petersen: Ask Evelyn

March 31, 2012

Ask Evelyn: We're losing a connection

Q: What do you think about that new smartphone that has the screen that does EVERYTHING "¦ that they are touting for young children. I saw on television that some schools were getting praise for their use of these small-screen gadgets. Somehow, as a retired teacher, they bother me. — P.N.

A: Yes I, too, am getting tired instead of excited when blasted with the media and advertising about new gadgets and iPods and iPads and smartphones. But I need to share an important note on the small-screen topic before my soapbox spiel.

You need to know — and share with parents — that the small screen (whether it is a television set or iPad or smartphone) may damage your child's development.

Years ago, in the '70s and '80s, research on reading showed that children were having problems learning to read because their eyes did not "track" normally. Experienced first-grade teachers were noticing this. (In those days teachers had more time to observe children, and interact/respond based on observations.)

The conclusion was that the culprit was probably the TV screen; many children sat long hours from toddler ood to school age, "tube" fed by the TV baby sitter.

Staring at the small screen did not allow the eye muscles to develop properly to track a line of print.

We've all had eye tests; you read a line of print or tell about pictures in sequence from left to right. Normal eyes of young children who have had the freedom to play with toys and other kids both indoors and outside will "track" in a rather jerky fashion from left to right, which is exactly how we read a line of print in a book. Fast readers read a line or several lines at a time, but that tracking motion and the muscles that control it are vital in the process.

Now look at the size of the screens we are expecting children to use, not just the television set but the computer monitor, and the many types of phones and gadgets. All of them have small screens that we stare at without moving our eyes in a normal manner.

Before you run and get these small screen devices, check with your eye doctors and see what exercises and daily activities you can use with children to mobilize the eye muscles, diminish the effects of staring and help protect children's eyes.

It's wise to remember that the important things of life cannot be reduced to the small screen, nor can they be touched, seen or documented with statistics. We get so caught up in enjoying our "i" toys that we forget how to connect (and teach our kids to connect) to the far more important source of our life, love and energy — the universe itself.

Every time we use a gadget or technology to cut off direct connections to another person, we are diminishing our connection to the source of our true energy and well-being. Please keep this in mind when you change to a "new and upgraded phone system" at a church or organization or business. If you've always had real people answering the phone call, you were connecting not only with the caller, but with our community.

If we truly want to make connections, we must do it personally, not with gadgets or technology. We also need to teach our young people that real "connecting" with others doesn't happen with "social networking tools." Turn off the gadgets. Talk to each other face to face.

Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and early childhood educator and author who lives in Traverse City; see her website at askevelyn.com.

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