If you didn’t make it to Hong Kong this week for the World Congress of Anaesthesiologists, you might have missed news that’ll come in handy next time your kid begs to take an iPad on a family outing.
Turns out those gadgets are as good at dulling young minds as hospital-grade sedatives are. That they drop kids into a trance won’t surprise anybody, but it took a team of French doctors to measure just how deep that trance goes.
The doctors gave a few dozen 4- to 10-year-olds a sedative to ease anxiety, let a few dozen others play games on iPads instead, then gave both groups anesthesia and operated on them. Not only were the iPads just as effective as the sedative at relaxing them before anesthesia, but parents and nurses were happier with the way anesthesia worked on the gadget group.
So now the devil on my shoulder has a new argument those times my wife and I really, really want to have adult conversations when the family is out together and our boys really, really just want to lose themselves in screens. I mean, everybody could be so relaxed if we just gave in and slid the kids our phones or finally turned on the back seat TV in the car.
But we’re holding firm.
See, my wife’s aunt ran a different experiment years ago that showed results we like a whole lot better. A professional big city chef, she made regular rounds of the local restaurants to stay on top of the scene and also just to drop in on her friends and colleagues. She spent a lot of time with her little niece, too, and she didn’t let either of those pleasures get in the way of the other.
That’s how, when she was just a 4-year-old girl, my wife often found herself seated at the nice bar of a classy restaurant between a couple of interesting adults who were discussing their lives, culture and the world at large. There being no iPads back then, her aunt had to come up with some way to keep a bored preschooler from dragging down the conversation.
The strategy? Engage.
Her niece couldn’t use books or games or anything to zone out. Little as she was, she had to join in.
That little girl loved to go on those outings and she knew the price of her ticket was to hold her own in the adult conversations, so she asked questions. She wanted to know about jobs, about relationships, about all the things the grownups wanted to talk about anyway. And she paid attention. She absorbed life lessons and good humor as she slowly got a handle on how to make meaningful connections over a couple of drinks, even if they were just Shirley Temples.
The experiment did have its small drawback. She found that asking questions was so fun and she got so good at getting strangers to open their lives to her that by the fourth grade she knew she wanted to be a journalist — a fascinating career, but not the most lucrative.
But, oh, the benefits! As an adult now, she’s the warmest person you’d want to have a long talk with. And I’m sure spending all that time in those restaurants with nothing to do but be charming and meet people is what laid the groundwork for the huge networks of deep friendships and professional contacts she’s created.
That’s what I’ll tell the devil on my shoulder when I’m tempted to hand the boys gadgets while the grownups talk: They don’t need to be sedated, they need to learn how to connect with people in that big world we’re going to set them loose in one day.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.