Is technology good for your kid?

I’ve long been a proponent of technology in childhood. I’m the guy who bought his 2 year-old a tablet, so apparently I’m into it. And we’re talking about it. Mostly–it’s lamentation of the toddler holding an iPhone, so engaged in what he’s doing he’s decided to cease communication with those around him at dinner, it’s talking about how “all kids do these days is sit on their phones (or computer, or tablets, etc.)”.

Technology and your kids is yet another area where parents (especially first-time parents) like to declare they’ll “never let their child do that”–though I encourage you to hold off until you realize you need your kid to sit still for like 5 whole minutes while you go do something in the other room. But there’s like this terror that once you introduce some technology to a kid, that they will turn into a wireless, app-obsessed child-drone. Parents will say that they want their “children to experience the real-world” and discover things on their own.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you look around, this IS the real world now. According to the US Census, when millennials were being born, about 8% of US households had a computer physically in the home. In 2012, 79% of American households have a computer. Even since 1997, internet usage in the home has jumped from 18% to 75%. My house growing up didn’t have a computer in it until 1993–when I was 8 years old. And we had Prodigy. So yeah.

But there still remains this aversion to technology use in children–even among millennial parents (as 71% of us own smartphones). Are we unnecessarily knee-jerking? And in doing so, are we setting ourselves up for failure later?

Don’t get me wrong, I do not think unlimited, unrestricted technology use in children (that is, children younger than 6) is what we need. But what we do need is an honest, serious discussion about how we should be introducing technology to our kids rather than just decreeing NO TECHNOLOGY UNTIL (insert whatever random age when your kid is suddenly responsible/smart/not–droneable(?) anymore).

I’m a graduate student in education, and my cognate area is in online education and adult learning, but last summer I also dabbled in this very topic area because I wanted to see what actual literature was out there about technology use in children. I could sit here for hours and ramble on about “how my kid benefits and here’s why you should too”. But I wanted to actual see what the research was saying. First and foremost–and perhaps this is part of the whole problem–there’s not a ton of research out there. So it was quite the information gathering assignment, but I was able to find a lot of resources and studies on technology in children and I even threw it into a nice Prezi, which I can share with you here.

I would certainly encourage you to check out the Prezi and also, the individual studies I cited in the Prezi. The greatest point to be made is that technology is not going to suddenly go away. And parents now are more connected than any time in history. There’s a computer in nearly in every home, a smartphone in the majority of homes, and the internet in a very large majority of homes–I’m not exactly sure where we plan on hiding these gadgets and making our kids suddenly less interested.

One of the studies I cited talked about the increasing use of the tablet or mobile device as a parenting tool (giving it to your kids for 5 minutes while you do something else), but there’s not been any serious consideration by the same parents to turn it into an educational tool. What is the goal by doing this? We’re using this incredibly technology for the wrong purposes. And it’s that purpose that causes the knee-jerk to “no technology” for the others. Should we not instead be introducing these devices to our children as a link into the real-world? When is a better time to teach them to be responsible digital citizens? Or is this another thing that we’re going to leave “to the schools” and then complain when our kids aren’t acting responsibly with technology?

I think the time is now for 1) more research and 2) a serious discussion about responsibly introducing technology to children in early childhood.

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