Raffi: Parents, just say ‘no’ to your kids
The entertainer has a new book on the perils of overexposure of young children to ‘infotech’
By MIKE HAGER, VANCOUVER SUN June 23, 2013
Children’s entertainer Raffi Cavoukian with his new book Lightweb Darkweb: Three Reasons To Reform Social Media Before It Re-Forms Us.
Photograph by: . , Vancouver Sun
Parents should take the iPads out of their young sons and daughters’ hands and get them playing with bananaphones and baby belugas, according to famed children’s entertainer Raffi Cavoukian. In recent years, the troubadour has become a vocal opponent of letting young kids use the latest “shiny” tech gadgets and set up online identities in the anarchic world of social media.
He talked with The Sun about his new ‘F-word’ and options for parents grappling with their children’s use of technology as he launches his new book Lightweb Darkweb: Three Reasons To Reform Social Media Before It Re-Forms Us. Here is an edited version of the interview:
Q. What do you think when you see parents give their kids an iPad or smartphone at a restaurant to keep them occupied?
A. Shiny tech should not be used as a babysitter, ever. The fact that it is doesn’t make it right.
There’s a logical fallacy in the assumption that you have to have your kids be Internet savvy early so they don’t get left behind. Left behind what? Think about this for a moment: this stuff is so easy to use you can master an iPhone … in 10 minutes. And you know the technology is going to change every six months, right? So what is it exactly that we’re supposed to giving our kids a head start in?
Child development people will tell you — people like David Elkind who wrote a book called The Hurried Child – it’s the unhurried children who are grounded in reality, who are grounded in emotional intelligence, in relational play. It’s those kids who (are) learning through the arts, learning through their imaginal capacities, they’re going to do well in life.
You’re exercising a faith in life itself when you raise children unhurriedly. So, all the more reason to make childhood the years that childhood is about: trial and error, playing in the real elements, learning in the real world, imagining your place in the real world. All of that is the work of childhood.
And I say to parents ‘infotech can wait.’ Kids have the whole rest of their lives for infotech, but they only have the first few years of childhood. That’ll only come once. What you don’t want is for the virtual world to interfere into it.
Q. That’s easy to say, but how can a childless person such as yourself know how hard it is to refuse their plaintive cry for more screen time?
A. I would say I do know how hard it is actually, because I talk to parents all the time. Admittedly I’m not a parent, but I interviewed a number of parents in the writing of this book, for one thing, but even without that I see how it is with parents.
I’ll tell you one thing, psychotherapists that are friends of mine, tell me they’re astonished at the number of parents these days who won’t say no.
I have compassion for parents as well as for their kids: those who won’t let their kids play video games for hours, those who restrict their kids’ social media time. Sometimes a child who’s experiencing the restraint of her parents will feel ostracized in her group if everybody else in the group has this stuff and they don’t.
That’s why it’s important in those cases for the parent to find one other parent in that social group who is maybe of like mind.
In which case then the child has one person to hang out with and doesn’t feel totally like ‘oh God, they’re all doing this and I’m not allowed to.’
I’m not saying restraint is easy on the parent or the child. But if you know, developmentally speaking, that there are important reasons why you should be exercising screen-time restraint, well then it’s your duty to put that into practice. When something is popular it doesn’t mean that it’s right. It’s a very simple concept. There are billion-dollar tech companies racing to shape the future for everybody and I’m not taking that lying down. They’re making billions off of convincing boards of education that everyone needs a tablet. That’s nonsense.
Q. Why should people listen to you?
A. That’s a good question. I have a fairly good understanding of children and child development. It’s something that I’ve been working with for a long time.
The three reasons for reforming social media are safety and intelligence — both societal intelligence and the intelligence our primary learners carry. The creative abilities of children are astounding, in the real world, with people, in their formative time. There’s my new ‘F-word’ for society: formative.
I want every family to understand the meaning of that word. I want everybody to talk about ‘Raffi’s F-word.’
Then you kind of go, ‘oh gee, that’s interesting. What’s forming?’ A sense of one’s self.
‘Oh. What else is forming?’ A sense of the world. What it feels like to be human.
That’s why those early years are so critical to the development of emotional intelligence, lifelong learning and play as a way of being. If people find the concept of lightweb darkweb interesting they should read this book. And they should also read the book because it presents an argument that they won’t find elsewhere. Which is again: that only by acting quickly to reform social media can we have, in good conscience, an optimal use of the lightweb in which users are safe, they use the Internet and social media with discernment and that it can be a sustainable and sustaining venture.
Q. Does it anger you when you see the smartphones go up in the audience when you perform?
A. No, because at the beginning of the show someone comes up and says ‘Out of respect to Raffi, please put away your phones and your tablets and just enjoy the show because he needs you to sing along.’
And they all do. They all respect me and we have a great time.
Q. Has technology changed your audience?
A. We’ve had concerns about kids in front of screens for a long time. By that we meant the TV screen. This is a further complication of the same issue. Because as you know … children do well when they play actively in the real world, using their imaginations as they play. That’s their innate intelligence. That imaginary theatre – that’s their gift. They make up play worlds that feel real to them, they don’t need virtual reality. They’re in that magical space children are.
Along comes television with its pre-fab images and if little kids watch too much TV or too soon well that’s an intrusion in their processes.
What I call ‘shiny tech’ goes even further. Why? Look at this thing (holds up his iPhone). It’s so cute! You just touch it and stuff happens! Well, yeah, but that’s a problem for kids.
Q. You dedicated your book to Amanda Todd. Why did her story affect you so deeply?
A. I’d heard of similar troubles that teens were having online. The normal bullying of childhood gets amplified online and there’s no escape from it. You can’t have your home as a safe haven. It follows you — it’s 24/7. The bullying, when it persists and other people pile on it becomes tormenting and then in this case a sexual predator.
The story just saddened me, shocked me, upset me tremendously, and I thought ‘I gotta do something.’
Q. You have a large presence on Twitter, but recently went on a “fast” from the micro-blogging platform, why?
A. That was great because suddenly I noticed it’s subtle the differences, you know?
When you’re online and you’re engaged, you’re always kind of thinking about it like ‘I wonder who’s tweeting me? It’s been an hour since I checked.’ For two days that wasn’t there and I was like ‘Ah, this feels nice, I remember this.’
I would recommend it for anybody. Have a social media fast for a weekend or one day a week.
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