There’s been a great deal of discussion in social, educational, and professional circles about the benefits and challenges of children (of all ages) using technology.
I began paying more attention to the different points of view when I took a look at my children’s holiday wish lists. Written at the top were smartphones, laptops, and tablets.
Well, how many tech devices do children (ages 9 and 11) really need, right?
But on the other hand, I have a smartphone, tablet, and laptop. Sure, I use the latter for work and paying bills (and researching how to help my son with his math homework!), but this got me thinking a bit deeper about children and technology. I began to wonder if it was fair of me to feel that my kids don’t need access to technology and that because I’m a responsible adult, I am entitled to use these devices while I tell my kids they have to wait.
One of the reasons I’ve held off so long on giving my kids devices is because, like many parents, I worry about kids growing up too fast, the amount of screen time exposure, and the potential dangers of being on the internet. I want them to play board games and sports, and go outside to build forts and ride bikes. And while it may be natural for parents to seek for their children a childhood that is reminiscent of their own, our society is evolving and, thus, childhood with it.
Rapidly advancing technology and a changing environment is resulting in different childhood experiences today. This is not to say children can’t participate in classic childhood activities AND be tech savvy. After all, today’s kids are growing up in the Digital Age and are digital natives. They don’t know what it’s like not to have the internet, digital pictures, online video games, apps, and technology to be able to reach someone wherever they are (i.e., cell phones, face-to-face apps, etc.).
The constant advances in technology coupled with the fact that computer engineering is one of the highest grossing college majors today made me realize that perhaps holding back on technology is actually putting my kids at a disadvantage. Technology will continue to evolve and the ability to code, repair a computer, or simply navigate web browsers and social networks efficiently will be expected, employable skills. Digital technology is here to stay so maybe I shouldn’t bury my head in the sand, but instead, work with my kids to ensure they are safely becoming technology literate.
Like most things, however, technology and screen time should be taken in moderation, cautions Tara LaMalfa, a school social worker at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School.
“Limiting the amount of time one spends online is reasonable and recommended,” she says. “Excessive screen time screen can disrupt sleep patterns, cause behavioral problems, result in academic lags, and contribute to a sedentary lifestyle. Internet addiction is a legitimate condition that should be taken seriously.”
Navigating the Digital Age With Your Children
If you are ready to allow your kids to use or own technology devices, here are a few useful tips to help you navigate this terrain with them.
In the documentary “Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age”, experts in the field of psychology and sociology all agreed that parents should set screen time limits and technology use boundaries for their children. A clear set of rules and expectations should be agreed upon by both the parents and children. At my house, for example, electronic devices will go to bed when we go to bed. And they will not be allowed during mealtimes, family time, and can’t be used until all other responsibilities are completed (i.e., homework, instrument practice, chores, etc.). Determining how much time kids may spend in front of a screen varies upon the child, age, and interests. Take into consideration, however, that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under two years of age, and between one and two hours daily for children between the ages of 2 and 5. Parents should also keep in mind that that not all technology experiences are equal. Non-educational video games and watching tv doesn’t necessarily carry the same screen time value as interactive media like e-books, educational apps/software programs (i.e., math facts, spelling, writing, etc.), or using the internet to research, explore, and problem solve. Therefore, as with most parenting decisions, you will need to review the recommendations and decide what’s best for your child and family.
Embrace digital citizenship
For younger tech users, it’s important they have a clear understanding of the potential threats of online interactions and grasp how to be responsible consumers of technology. School-age children can be introduced to the concept of cyber safety and learn the differences between appropriate and inappropriate uses of technology. Early on, children should understand that sharing personal information is never safe. Safe Kids provides parents helpful safety advice, guides, and even a family online safety contract.
Although they may mumble and grumble at first, it’s important kids share their device pin numbers and passwords with you for their own protection. Children need to accept that technology and safety go hand in hand. Parents should also be transparent with their children and let them know that they will, from time to time, check their devices to make sure they are being safe. (This is where a contract that outlines the rules will come in handy!) Parents may also want to consider enabling parental blocks, filters, and controls. Especially because children may inadvertently access an inappropriate or mature website or make in-app purchases. Parents may also want to consider adding location tracking software on their kids devices, especially if their children are involved in activities outside of the home.
Tara Mitchell is a public information specialist for the Capital Region BOCES Communications service in Albany, NY. She lives in Malta, NY with her husband and two children. She’s an avid collector of vintage, fine and fashion jewelry and enjoys throwing themed parties.