Mobile technology and children

Louis CK (language warning)

I think Louis CK is a very funny guy, but also often profound (in the midst of all the biting humor and foul language). This video was an interesting counterpoint to all the praise of mobile technology we’ve been reading.

So, there are two main points he’s making here—humorously of course, but I think with a vein of truth. The first applies to kids and mobile technology, and the second applies to everyone.

First is the point that mobile technology is particularly problematic for children. As he says, “Kids are mean, and it’s because they’re trying it out.” I’m around kids a lot, and I’ve heard almost all of them say rude stuff that they think is funny. They heard another kid say something like it, or they heard it on a show. They are trying it out, just like they try out jumping from the top of the slide because they wonder what will happen. They inherently want to push limits (if human beings were NOT like this, mobile technology would never have been invented).

I don’t think any amount of kindness curricula and anti-bullying assemblies will ever eliminate kids testing in that way, any more than you can get children not to run around just because it’s easier for the yard duty to supervise if they don’t. (Seriously—we have “running lanes” at the school blacktop and the kids are not supposed to run around except in the running lanes. SMH.)

Running is fun. And while it’s true crashing into other people is unpleasant, or tripping and hurting yourself is unpleasant, running is still REALLY FUN. Playful banter is also fun, but going too far is hurtful—kids learn that line by crossing over it, and having to deal with the consequences. If you run, you risk hurting yourself. If you mouth off, you risk hurting someone else or hurting your own social standing because people get mad at you. “Children learn how to deal with risk only by facing risk” (Lahey, 2014). A computer environment is too safe for this kind of feedback to happen; the risk is too removed from the action for children to learn from it.

I really agree with Louis CK—when you have to face someone that you’ve hurt by your supposed witty remark, it is a lot harder to deny what you’ve done. When you are distanced by technology, it’s easier to minimize someone else’s pain. This echoes the concern raised by librarian Kathy Kleckner in Samtani (2012): “[Kleckner] says that relying on apps for storytelling dilutes the key ingredient in a child’s development: human interaction.” Babies respond more strongly to faces from a very young age, processing information at a more sophisticated level than they do when looking at other objects(Stanford Report, 2012). I hope there will be more research about exactly how children’s brains respond to mobile technology specifically, but in the meantime, I don’t think we can assume it is innocuous for them to interact with an app instead of a person.

Mobile technology is extremely compelling and fun, and I think it is a real concern to prevent technolust (or the incredible convenience of keeping kids quiet and occupied because we don’t want to be bothered by their kidlike antics) from letting kids at the technology without thoughtful reflection on what it adds, and what it might be replacing.

Louis CK’s second point is that connectivity anywhere can be used as a crutch to escape any boredom, discomfort or sadness (or our kids whining or fidgeting). Mobile technology didn’t invent the phenomenon of distracting ourselves, of course. Alcohol, sex, eating, shopping, gambling, television…unhealthy uses of experiences have been around for a long time.

Pretty much all the other problematic things are things we keep away from children or we control for them (no TV until you do your homework, that’s enough cookies for today), because we recognize that they are not yet capable of understanding the potential dark sides to the very attractive, compelling experiences. Yes, the “genie is out of the bottle” (Samtani, 2012). I agree that librarians can’t suppress or ignore apps for kids. In fact, since librarian’s traditional role has always included being a guide to the difference between junk information and reliable information, it is all the more important for librarians serving children to educate themselves about beneficial and harmful uses of mobile technology.

Lahey, J. (January 28, 2014). Recess without rules [Web log post]. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Samtani, H. (2012, December 27). Libraries use iPads and apps to ramp up storytime, but concerns remain [Web log post]. The Digital Shift. Library Journal. Retrieved from

Stanford Report. (December 11, 2012). Infants process faces long before they recognize other objects, Stanford vision researchers find [Web log post].Stanford News. .Retrieved from


About mollificence

library student, writer, mom, Kindle addict View all posts by mollificence

7 responses to “Mobile technology and children

  • Michael Stephens

    @mollymckinney This is a great example of learning from all sorts of teachers. These types of insights resonate and I hope all the folks who watched the interview take it to heart. Your call for balance is well-made. I’m thrilled that little Ian is downloading apps but I’m also thrilled when he grabs a book from our LFL or heads out to explore the swamp with his buddies. (I did mention Ian in my lecture, right? If not, he lives next door – young boy who gets to download free apps on his mom’s Touch)

  • Molly McKinney

    @michael Thanks! I’m pretty careful with apps and stuff with my kids–they certainly know how to download apps and have favorites on my Fire or iPad, but we make sure there is plenty of balance (And I’m not touching the whole social networking/texting thing with them for some time. Plenty of time for that after they have gained more social mastery in REAL life.)

    • Molly McKinney

      And I do have to say–for memorizing states capitals and multiplication tables and other necessary evils, apps really take the pain out of that.:)

  • Darren

    Hi, Molly!
    It’s funny–I posted the same video recently. Thanks for a thoughtful post on children and technology. I’m constantly surprised that there is often so little critical thinking about both the positive and negative effects of technology on our lives. The technologies that connect us also have the ability to distract us and separate us from each other. We need to be aware of both possibilities. Thanks for leading in a critical dialogue.

    • Molly McKinney

      @darren I saw your Louis CK post! I meant to post in response but my kids were on spring break this week–we went to Joshua Tree, and I went off the grid! (It felt kinda weird). I agree, we should not be too quick to reject or accept technology. Especially for kids. We had a very compelling lecture from an occupational therapist at our kids’ preschool–about how kids need to do all sorts of physical things and develop skills that we don’t even think about (swinging, sliding down slides on their stomachs, hiding and trying to fit under things and crawl through them)–and we should not be too focused on teaching preschool kids to read before they learn vestibular skills, balance, crossing the midline–we don’t think of the ability to sit in a chair without falling out as a skill but it is). Play is an education skill. The virtual world makes sense BECAUSE we have knowledge of the real physical world. And empathy is a big one that is difficult to learn virtually.

      • Darren

        Hi, Molly!
        Your response resonated with my experience as a teaching assistant at the German immersion school in Portland. They, of course, follow the German curriculum in which they do not teach reading and math until first grade. They think that although some kids are ready for that earlier, many are not. They emphasize physical play, arts and crafts, singing, dancing, and social skills in preschool and kindergarten. At the other extreme, I remember that public schools in Chicago didn’t have any recess. Unbelievable!

      • Molly McKinney

        @darren Thanks Darren! Yes, it is unbelievable that some schools keep doing what research shows is so bad for kids! (Pushing academic literacy too young, taking away play time). Our school is pretty good in that area, but it is frustrating to see so many examples where that’s not the case.

        I sometimes find myself wondering if all the focus on play, gamification, etc., is partly a result of taking away play too much when kids are young! People grow up craving what they missed.

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