At what age should we allow access to Pandora’s box of smartphones and tablets?

When considering this parenting decision, one cannot help but recall the hazards of Pandora’s box.

If you remember what the Greek poet Hesiod wrote, Pandora was given a box or a jar. The gods told her that the box contained important gifts from them, but she was not allowed to open the box ever.

Pandora tried to tame her curiosity, but eventually she could not fight the urge anymore. She opened the box and all the troubles that the gods had hidden in the box started coming out.

In today’s world Pandora’s box is a metaphor for the technology we all simultaneously love and malign. We all know the little blue glow that captivates the eyes and mind in the moments where patience and self-discipline had once held domain.

Parental rules for personal technology always begin with sensible parameters and the best of intentions. We tell them that it will be used to communicate, to help with homework, to play games and to listen to music. No phone at dinner or family gatherings. Then like a sand castle the rules begin to crumble.

Despite our best intentions the box contains so many hazards to distract or even steal the innocence of childhood.  We try to protect our children—but we are often the biggest hypocrites.

Have you observed a playground, beach, sporting event or parking lot?  How many parents are locked into their phones?

At least four times this summer I have had people in their 40s and 50s tell me that they were glad that they grew up in a world with limited technology.  Each one reminisced about time spent outside.

There appears to be a cost to our love of Pandora’s box, perhaps a toll collected on our ability to communicate face-to-face, on our patience or ability to experience the world.  Has technology made us less willing to hear voices we may disagree with or do we like to linger in the reassuring tide of “likes” tossed to us from our preferred tribes?

Are we less civil?  

Last week, I had a great discussion on this subject with a gentleman fixing our family washing machine. He said, “We live in a very unique time in history because we have witnessed the transformation of society from one that uses technology to a society that lives, socializes and works within technology.”

Other questions followed, “When are we off? Are we truly free? Why do people need refrigerators with cameras watch their food?  Can you give me a nice review?”

Another friend recently lamented, “So few people know the joy of handwriting a letter, darning a sock, fixing an appliance or making homemade whipped cream.”     

Pandora’s box did hold a few good things too…like hope.

There is also a sunnier side to personal technology. There are countless little apps that make our daily lives easier and dare I say, more fulfilling.  

With my smartphone I can converse with the great global village. I can drive through a city without arguing over directions. I can catch a beautiful fish, take a photo, then set it free into the water.       

My smartphone has given me the capability to capture so many photos and videos that I cherish, reconnect with friends and explore. Sure, it is killing print media, but it also gives me a greater platform to reach more readers.

We have the capability to learn so much with personal technology, if we choose to. We must remember that technology is a tool, a lens with a wide or narrow aperture, or even a mirror.

Our freewill governs our keystrokes, our direction, and our destination. We are all Pandora.


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