It’s that time of year when children everywhere take out a pencil and a piece of paper to write to Santa, telling him they have been good, asking about Mrs. Claus, and providing a long list of things they hope to find under the tree. As Peaches and Sparky get older, their lists become longer and more specific, and it becomes harder and harder for us to make decisions about what Santa will bring. This year, when Peaches handed me her letter to send to the North Pole, I was completely thrown off guard. At the top of the list, highlighted with stars, underlined, and labeled as her “very first choice” was “iPod touch”. iPod Touch?! My 8-year-old daughter wants a $300 electronic device to will allow her to text, visit websites, listen to music, and play games?! Really?! This is a child who regularly loses her goggles at the swimming pool (and her sweatshirt at the park and………). “Hmmm”, I said. “I am not sure Santa will bring a gift that is not age-appropriate. Kids your age aren’t old enough for an iPod Touch.” Peaches then proceeded to rattle off all the names of her friends who had one. Shoot. Now I was stuck. “Well, you can send your letter, and we will see what Santa says.”
In 2010, the Pew Internet Research Center presented data that suggested that the age at which children are getting media gadgets is getting younger and younger. For example, one report found that 58% of 12-year-olds had cell phones, whereas virtually no older teens reported having a cell phone at that young an age. Given that this data is now 2 years old, I imagine the rates today are much higher. (BTW, I actually could not find data on 8-year-olds. The Kaiser Family Foundation does national surveys on 8- to 18-year-olds’ media use, but do not present results separately by age….). Although third graders owning media gadgets is becoming more normative, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I will jump on the bandwagon.
Don’t get me wrong- I am not anti-technology and anti-media, and as an adult, I own plenty. Media and technology can be a wonderful educational tool and source of social interaction and entertainment. Peaches has had a iPod shuffle for about a year, and I love how it has increased her interest in music. But I don’t see the need for an 8-year-old to enter the world of texting, apps, and Siri. There is plenty of time for that when she gets older. And we still know so little about the potential effects of massive screen time on the developing brains of children. But how do I explain that to an 8-year-old girl?
When Santa receives his annual letters from Peaches and Sparky, he always writes back. This year, he needs some help. What do YOU think Santa should say?