Technology and kids. Seems like they were made for each other! Watching my young children easily navigate an electronic device or techno-gizmo makes me wonder if they were born with some innate knowledge or skill. Point-and-click seems to come as naturally as turn-head-to-nurse. Is part of their DNA written in binary code?!
Certainly this comfort level will serve them well, as technology is bound to be a part of their lives. When I reflect on my own life – childhood before the VCR, college before widespread use of the internet – and think how far technology has come, I can only imagine the part technology will play in how my children will communicate, be entertained, learn, work, even travel! (Teleportation, anyone??) And while they are ready to embrace wholeheartedly all things touchscreen, I hesitate to give them carte blanche. There are many great things about technology, but there are also reasons to hold back. Like everything in life, it seems to be all about balance.
Educational Opportunities. The amount of information literally at your fingertips is amazing! If a child is curious about anything, there is a wealth of information online. They can see animals in their natural habitats with web cams and even watch things happening at NASA – live! Such access can really feed a love of learning.
There are a number of super websites to build or practice math, reading, and writing skills. Some of our favorites are www.abcya.com (a plethora of learning games organized by grade level), www.coolmathgames.com, and www.kerpoof.com (a site where kids can write and illustrate stories). Many activities online encourage problem-solving skills. I love seeing 2 or 3 of my kids gathered around the laptop working together to figure out how to get the Vikings out of the ice (Ice Breaker) or how to lay tracks and build bridges so a train can reach its destination (Build the Bridge).
As homeschooling and alternative education is growing, the online learning opportunities are endless! Global Student Network (www.globalstudentnetwork.com) is an excellent resource because it offers 6 of the leading curricula from one location. It also hosts an online private school (International Virtual Learning Academy) and a number of other programs such as career training and Rosetta Stone. (Speaking of technology, Global is currently offering a free Android tablet to each student who enrolls before July 31).
Not only with the computer but with all devices there are educational options. There are educational apps galore! A good source for finding such apps is www.apple.com and www.abcmouse.com. With these, learning is engaging and portable.
Connections. Besides connecting with particular interests and, well, anything in the whole wide world, technology allows kids to connect with friends and family who live far away. Programs like Skype can allow “face to face” visits with anyone from anywhere in the world. When so many of us live far away from family, this tool helps to build and maintain important relationships. There are so many ways to use this technology for this purpose. Consider having a grandparent read a story to a child via skype or the other way around! Kids can sing the latest song they have learned for a distant friend. When jobs take parents away from home, these techno-visits are helpful.
Reading. Devices like e-readers and tablets have made books easy to bring anywhere! The ability to carry a virtual library with you certainly lines up on the “good” side of the issue. And speaking of library, most libraries allow you to checkout ebooks. Anything you want to read can be easily accessible.
Graphic Violence. Watching and virtually participating in graphic violence is not healthy for a child’s developing mind and psyche. Regarding children and violent gaming, the American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry says, “Studies of children exposed to violence have shown that they can become: “immune” or numb to the horror of violence, imitate the violence they see, and show more aggressive behavior with greater exposure to violence.” It may be easy to think “It’s just a game” or “it’s just TV” but desensitizing kids to violence and teaching aggression does not belong in the category of “child’s play.”
Too Much Screen Time. Spending excessive time in front of a screen is detrimental to a child’s health and well-being, according to many pediatric experts. The American Academy of Pediatrics determined that children who spend more than 2 hours a day in front of a screen (TV or computer) are more likely to be obese, have irregular sleep, have behavioral problems and poor academic performance. Also, the more time a child spends electronically engaged leaves less time for creative play or exploring the world around them.
Isolation. As “connected” as we are in our tech-savvy society, sometimes it seems the connections are shallow and void of real relationship. Sometimes it seems we are each wrapped up in our own electronic world, a culture of cocoons. Allowing children to spend hours a day by themselves in front of an electronic device jeopardizes hours they could be spending interacting with people and learning to build relationships.
Cyber Danger. While rare, there is danger to children from cyber predators. Being flippant about personal information and technology can mean someone knowing exactly where your child is and what they are doing. Enough said.
But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water or in this case the ipad out with the . . . doesn’t quite translate, does it?! Truth is technology is not only here to stay but will likely grow in prevalence. This calls for taking a balanced approach with our children.
Here are some ways we as parents can encourage healthy use of technology.
Limit Screen Time. Considering all the screens available to your children (TV, computer, tablet, gaming device), it might be a surprising exercise to tally the time spent daily. American Academy of Pediatrics recommends setting a limit of 2 hours for all screens combined.
No TV in Bedroom. Having no TV in a child’s bedroom will cut down on screen time. Also, a TV in a communal location means children will likely watch with other people and the choice of content can be better monitored from a more public location.
Unplug! Try setting days where you as a family cut out as many electronics as possible. You may feel withdrawal symptoms at first, but doing this on a regular basis can help you and your kids focus more on people and creative and active play. And it may be surprising to see how much your family relies on electronics as well as how much fun you can have without them! Pull the plug on the TV and pull out the Monopoly board!
Be Proactive. Know what your children watch and play and choose games and programs that will not be detrimental to them.
DON’T Just Say NO! Show them that there is a lot of “good stuff” out there and how to access it. Use tech times for discussion. Make them aware of dangers and talk through the pros and cons of questionable content. Teach them to ask themselves: Is this good for me? Is this a good use of my time? Does this show me how to be the best person I can be? Give them skills to think through good choices so they can decide for themselves as they mature.
Model Good eBehavior. Remember the old adage “Do as I say and not as I do”? Children will learn more from what they see you doing then from the limits and rules you set. If you are constantly texting at the dinner table, you can bet they are learning that blips to a screen far away are more important than the people sitting in the room. Let them see you using technology to learn, to work, to enjoy life, to solve problems. Think about how you hope they approach technology and make the effort to model that approach yourself. Show them that technologies are tools, not life itself.
Technology and kids. With a little effort and direction from you, technology and kids can bring out the best in each other.
Copyright © 2013 J. Hoffman / GSN (NV)
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“Children and Video Games: Playing with Violence” http://aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/children_and_video_games_playing_with_violence
“Children and TV: Limiting Your Child’s Screen Time” http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/children-and-tv/MY00522