We all talk about the good ol’ days. For my generation, it involved gaming systems, our parents remember the significant expansion of the television, and our grandparents, I don’t know, played with paper dolls and pushed wooden hoops down a dirt road with a stick, something like that.
Anyways, as much as we may lament ‘the kids these days’, we have the tendency to forget that children are products of the world in which they live.
I always read in the parenting books to get kids interacting with real things and having real conversations. And they should. But I wonder if it’s just time we more willingly accept that our kids won’t have the same childhood as we did.
My son enjoyed blocks and ‘traditional’ toys when he was younger. They were simple, built for small hands and exploring. But then he got older. He saw mommy and daddy playing with cooler things, like cell phones, or computers, or the most recent acquisition, a Kindle Fire.
Technology, at least in my experience, gives you more insight into the intellectual capabilities of a child than anything else. The rate at which a two year-old can learn to navigate a smartphone, or website or tablet is astonishing. Parker, for instance, first presumed our laptop screen was a touchscreen. And why wouldn’t it be? The cell phone and tablet are. When he learned it wasn’t, he quickly navigated the use of the mouse in a matter of minutes.
But then came the Fire. I got one for Christmas and Parker was instantly intrigued. Two years ago, the thought of purchasing my toddler his very own tablet seemed incomprehensible, or even, foolish. Eventually it got to the point where we thought, should we just continue to get him toys he doesn’t really care for that much anymore, or something that can actually grow with him? So we took the plunge and bought him a Kindle Fire.
Since we own another Fire, we share a cloud, so my apps can also be loaded onto his and vice versa. Of course he likes to play Angry Birds, Where’s My Water, and Cut the Rope, but there’s a ton of kid-friendly learning games as well. Perhaps his favorite app is really an interactive book–Dr. Seuss’s ABC. He loves the hard-copy edition, but now he has an app that will not only read the book to him, but also allow him to learn the words for himself. The result? He can read the entire book to us now at bedtime. And now the public library loans out Kindle books, too. He picks what he wants to play on his own, with minimal help from us–usually just to have us complete a level on Cut the Rope he can’t beat.
But do we run the risk of over-technologizing our children? Shelley Pasnick, Director of The Center for Children and Technology thinks we might. “We’re really worried about whether children are going to become addicted too early, and also what’s first,” Pasnick said. “[Teaching with technology and teaching traditionally] have their advantages. Anyone who is thoughtfully thinking about technology doesn’t want to replace the experiences kids have playing with blocks and what we like to call the real world — getting dirty and getting messy — and how do we foster that messiness in all sorts of settings.”
And what’s more, are we raising children to become anti-social creatures? Pasnick said a lot depends on family expectations — if mom and dad demand a lot of social interactions and place their child in social situations. Pasnick also offers that some aspects of technology — social networking sites, for example — can present even more social avenues than just playing ball in a backyard.
But do we really know? Many technology advocates, especially of younger generations, seem to think that technology does much more good than harm, teaching children specific problem-solving skills, developing learning, and perhaps most importantly, preparing young children for the world they are likely to live in–one full of technology.
It’s most likely just an area we have to navigate on our own, because this is the first generation of children who have even had the ability to be handed a tablet. And maybe it’s just time we understand that our children are going to lead markedly different childhoods than we did.