My son just turned 9-years-old this month and has become recently obsessed with Pokemon. His activity-of-choice at any given time is to play Pokemon on his new Nintendo 3DS. His friend selection is based on a mutual reverence for these Japanese avatars. He recites litanies of evolved forms of Pokemon characters with the same reverence that he used to shower on baseball players, mathematics, Edvard Grieg and the Periodic Table. Somehow, I not only entertained these earlier obsessions, but I encouraged them. I believed fully in their power to develop the precocious young scientist I hoped he would turn out to be. And, until now, I was a strong proponent of electronics. My son has owned a tablet since he was 5-years-old, an iPad since he was 6. I let him take ownership of his tablet, to find and remove apps at will, unless they cost money — then we would weigh the costs and benefits of such a purchase -- and unless it was the “Find My iPhone” app which he deleted more frequently than I would have liked, as misplacing my own device was almost a daily occurrence, explaining that he “needed the space” for some cool new app. None of this concerned me as his favorite apps were most often math apps, board game apps and an app that brought life to the Periodic Table of the elements.
But now, his iPad has been relegated to a depository of YouTube videos on strategies to master certain Pokemon levels and and their opponents. He apparently “fights” in battles — as a single mom, I have protected him from the idea of “fighting,” not allowing even the most-unaggregious nerf gun into the house. He doesn’t want to go anywhere without his Nintendo 3DS, whether it be the grocery store, a birthday party or synagogue. Of course, the response to the latter two is a resounding “no,” but that doesn’t mean he won’t put up a good albeit exhausting fight. He was thrilled to return to his Pokemon after a short excursion to learn how to ride a bike, which naturally resulted in a short-term “fail” first time around, and doesn’t want to go out for Little League Baseball this year because the balls are getting harder to hit. His resiliency and perseverance are waning — in all areas except for Pokemon.
As an educator I have been a huge proponent of using technology in the classroom, but, as I confiscate more and more misused cell phones, and Madden-Football-playing iPads, I wonder if I am on the wrong side of history. Are these devices, with their abundance of educational apps, videos and individualized learning tools still the positive resource I believed them to be, or merely another distraction we as parents and educators need to battle in raising well-adjusted and curious children?