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Raffi urges parents to limit access to technology

The bad news, girls and boys, is that Sunday’s Raffi concert is completely sold out. So if you want to hear Baby Beluga or Bananaphone, you’ll have to content yourself with a recording.
In July, Raffi will release his first album of childrenÕs music since 2002.

The bad news, girls and boys, is that Sunday’s Raffi concert is completely sold out. So if you want to hear Baby Beluga or Bananaphone, you’ll have to content yourself with a recording.

The good news (at least for moms and dads) is that Raffi has passed along helpful advice regarding kids and social media.

His message is this: Limit your child’s access. Because those iPads, phones and other electronic gizmos are not ordinary playthings. And they’re certainly not babysitters.

When it comes to making such sweeping pronouncements, several things give Raffi (aka Raffi Cavoukian) credentials. In the world of children’s entertainment, the 65-year-old troubadour is a superstar. He’s sold more than 15 million albums and DVDs in North America. The Washington Post deemed him “the most popular children’s singer in the English-speaking world.”

More to the point, last year Raffi published a book, Lightweb Darkweb, about our use of social media, particularly when it comes to children.

Phoning this week from his Saltspring Island home, Raffi discussed a few highlights from his book.

Computers can shape impressionable minds (and not in a good way): Raffi says children must interact with the real world (that is, the non-computerized world) as much as possible. Computers are all about dizzying speed and instant info.

They provide a “distortion” of time, cadence and rhythm — something that’s harmful for youngsters who need to be molded by the natural world’s rhythms and textures.

Children must experience what a “long, lazy summer” feels like before endlessly immersing themselves in hand-held gizmos, as many tech-obsessed adults do.

“Your children, it’s their job to learn about the real world,” Raffi says. “It’s not their job to learn about tech.”

Believe it or not, social media is not created with your child in mind: “The changes in infotech are coming from 18-to-24-year-olds who sit in front of screens all day. And that’s a little scary,” Raffi said.

If you need a babysitter, hire a real one: After a hard day’s work, some parents hand their child an electronic device to get 20 minutes of peace and quiet.

That’s a bad idea.

Some parents will say, “What’s wrong with my kid playing with an iPad? It’s just another form of technology.”

Not true, says Raffi. Equating the invention of the computer with the invention of the bicycle or even television doesn’t hold water. That’s because the way hand-held gizmos work influences the cognitive function of young minds.

“It is not a children’s toy. It is not a child minder. I have to keep saying this over and over again. Because parents are not thinking. The majority of parents are seduced by this technology,” Raffi said.

Too much time spent in the techno-world isn’t good for non-computer social interaction: Texting or Facebooking is no substitute for face-to-face social interaction. Social skills, such as the ability to pick up on social cues, must be learned in the real world.

Also, too much computer time may be impeding children’s deep reading and comprehension skills.

For more on this, Raffi recommends Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

Happily, social media is not all bad: Don’t fling your Macbook in the trash just yet. As far as kids go, there are good things about this technology, says Raffi. For instance, he likes visiting his 13-month-old grand-niece in Toronto via Skype. She likes it, too. However, he notes her mother doesn’t like the baby to touch her laptop. That’s mom’s way of saying “it’s not yours”.

Limit your children’s screen time.

They’ll be happier for it, says Raffi. Kids still enjoy age-old activities, such as books, songs, painting and puppetry. And by the way, cellphones are for teens, not tots. Smartphones can wait till your teen is old enough to drive.

Finally, another bonus for those still kicking themselves over missing Sunday’s concert. In July Raffi will release his first children’s album since 2002. It’s called Love Bug.

And guess what?

He recorded 80 per cent of it at his Saltspring Island home using (yes, it’s true) the latest high-tech gizmos.

“It was so much fun,” Raffi said. “I feel like recording an album a year for the next four years, at least.”