Parents Perspective

Why One Pediatrician Has Made Peace With Technology

Today’s babies are video chatting from the crib, and it’s okay with this doctor.

Mother And Baby Daughter FaceTime On Phone Dragon Images/Shutterstock
I spoke to our 11-month-old grandson with FaceTime on his mom’s iPhone today. “Facetiming” is now the norm for babies and their grandparents, and I have been worn down by the subtle pressure of progress. Indeed, after years of advising me and other pediatricians about the evils of screen time for young children, the American Academy of Pediatrics has now acknowledged reality in its revised recommendations, making video chatting permissible even for young infants. How far we’ve come!

For most of my own kids’ childhoods, we were techno-resistant parents. We never owned a Gameboy, X-box, Wii, Nintendo, or other gaming device. We still use spiral-bound “week-at-a-glance calendars,” forgoing Outlook and other digital minders. We were the last family we know to get cable TV, flat screen TV, and HDTV, and among the last people on earth still waiting for Netflix movies in red mailers to be delivered by the postman. The first phone to turn smart in our family went to our son after his first year in law school because he needed to search prospective employers and schedule interviews, but that decision was not without angst about the creeping digital invasion.

To put things in generational perspective, my 88-year-old mother doesn’t even have a cell phone, smart or dumb. She doesn’t have cable TV or a computer, and she’s never used email. Mom watches the national news on TV every night and reads a hard copy of The Denver Post every morning. For her birthday last year, we got her a Teflon spatula and soup ladle, new cutting knives, and a plastic soap dish for the bar soap she still uses in the kitchen. She was thrilled, but couldn’t understand why she needed the spatula since the one I made for her in junior high shop class in 1968 still worked fine. And as long as her grandkids call her at least once a week, she really doesn’t care what kind of phone anyone uses.

I vividly remember exactly where we were when my brother-in-law and I had the debate about why anyone would ever need email. I argued I already had a phone (land line, of course) and a fax machine. Why does everything have to be seen, read, and dealt with instantaneously? How did college students get jobs before smart phones? Before email? That’s what big manila envelopes were for, right?

However, I love the fact that our grandson immediately recognizes us on his parents’ phones and giggles when we make funny faces. He reaches for the phone when we say, “High five!” and holds both hands straight up when we say, “Touchdown!” He has a little toy phone that plays tunes when he pushes buttons. He holds it to his ear and says, “ehyo.” Like others in his generation, he will grow up having the answers to all his questions at his fingertips, which he’ll be able to access even in traffic because he’ll get where he needs to go in a driverless car. He’ll live in a smart house that can be digitally managed from afar, cleaned by robots, and monitored by phone. But by then it won’t be just a smart phones, it will be a brilliant phone, able to do who-can-even-imagine amazing things like schedule an Uber personal flying machine or a Tesla-copter. Just like his grandfather, he’ll have lively debates someday with his own brother-in-law about the need for email. Who’ll need email when we will have transmission chips in our brains that can send messages wirelessly to each other?

Until then, I’m thrilled that on his upcoming first birthday, we will be able to see him and he’ll be able to see us, even though we’re 2000 miles away. We’ll take a laptop to my mom’s house so she can also see her great-grandson giggling and high-fiving. She can’t believe this whole smart phone thing really works. “What do you mean it takes pictures and movies, too?”

I can’t believe it either, but I have finally surrendered to it.

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is a Parents advisor and the author of books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting940 Saturdays, and Miracles We Have Seen - America's Leading Physicians Share Stories They Can't Forget. Visit his website and blog at harleyrotbart.com and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.