As the use of technology-based devices has exploded, adults have started to ask critical questions about the role that technology plays in the lives of their children. This is often the case when anything new is introduced and not well understood. Underlying this discussion is the reality that many adults feel that technology plays an outsized role in their lives and so they want a more healthy productive relationship with technology for their children.
How much screen time is too much? Is my kid spending too much time on devices? Will my kid be able to become a productive citizen if they are too digital?
While these are important questions, there are important steps parents can take in the near term to make sure their kids screen time is beneficial to their development.
Creating vs. Consuming
More often that not, technology is lumped into one giant bucket. Oftentimes, we think of technology as the devices that our kids most often engage with on a daily basis: smartphones, tablets and video gaming systems. While it is certainly true that this these devices are one category of technology, I’d like us to expand our thinking to also consider those technologies that are used for creating new inventions and innovations.
There are visual based programming languages like Scratch that can be used to create video games. There are 3D modeling softwares like TinkerCad that are used to model 3D structures. There are graphic design softwares like Blender that can be used to create robust graphic design and animations. There are robotics platforms like Lego EV3 and Vex Robotics that can be used to create bots with a wide variety of capabilities.
If we just limit our understanding of technology to consumption devices, we miss out on the whole universe of possibilities that comes from learning about how to build with the technology platforms that are focused on creation.
Many of the basics that are learned from devices such as how technology works provide a great foundation to transition into creating. And, as an end user of consumption devices, the next generation will have empathy for what good user design and experience should be like because of the experience they have at utilizing professional grade devices from major technology companies and high quality desktop & mobile applications that are built by companies both large and small.
In addition, creating gives the next generation of kids an opportunity to experience the frustration that goes along with building. The best consumer devices, applications, and games are designed to work with a high level of reliability and predictability. This means that kids don’t often get a chance to experience broken devices or how to troubleshoot something when it isn’t working.
With technology becoming a bigger and bigger part of their professional experience and toolkit, it is important that they not only understand how to build with technology but also what happens when things don’t quite go your way. The resilience and grit that comes from this experience will create more healthy relationships with technology going forward.
Along the way, there is also an opportunity to learn about why those smartphones, tablets and gaming systems can be so addictive. The next generation of kids can learn by building about gamification and notifications that are designed to elicit certain responses. Through that, they can hopefully have a better filter for engaging with technology in a way that is productive. And, with knowledge of the potential harmful effects, they will also consider what sort of features they will include in their products once they have an opportunity.
Balanced Screen Time
As new technologies are introduced, we can often fall into the trap of these innovations becoming our default that we use for any and everything even when it’s not necessarily the best resource. Just because something is new or has a great user interface doesn’t mean that it is better.
When I was a kid, we used to have encyclopedias that we would utilize to research information. If you asked most kids what an encyclopedia is, they would probably think that you are talking about wikipedia. While there are supposed to be benefits to crowdsourced solutions and the ability for the community to edit entries, the reality is that this information source can be manipulated. And, while these edits are eventually caught, the reality is that it may or may not have happened before your child read that information and assumed it was accurate.
In addition, the internet is a wealth of knowledge. Anyone and everyone can put up information based on their interest. However, this can also lead to lots of misinformation. Many search engines primary job is to help filter through this by utilizing the structure of the network to help validate accuracy. So, those sites with more backlinks or citations are theoretically more credible and so should be the ones that are considered as more reliable.
These examples both show that while technology based solutions can be beneficial, we also need to be discerning on what we learn from these sites. Also, it isn’t necessary to always use the internet to do research. Sometimes, it’s better to go to the library and pick up a book that has a deep, in-depth analysis of the topic under consideration. Not only will the book be better put together, it may also be more efficient than filtering through an abundance of websites to piece together the story.
For those who utilize research professionally, we know that it is much more beneficial to utilize a well researched report from a major publication than to search through an endless stream of internet articles, blogs, and websites to piece together the information we need. Oftentimes, we find there are conflicts with the data and those that are well supported often point back to a thoroughly researched report.
As the amount of information has exploded, the key skill is no longer can you use technology to find information but what are the appropriate use cases for incorporating technology into learning. In essence, we need to teach our kids to filter what information sources they are using and the associated criteria. Along with that filtering, they should understand when technology is appropriate for the problem at hand and when it isn’t.
Use Technology to Connect In Real Life
Humans are inherently social creatures. We crave connection and the opportunity to build relationships with others. While this is true, we also know that some people are introverts and some extroverts. And, others especially those who are coming of age are simply trying to figure out how to be social along with the associated physiological and biological changes that come along with growing up.
Within this context, it can often be easier to connect with peers online. From text messaging to social networking, there seem to be an ever increasing opportunity to connect digitally. While there are some benefits to this for certain situations, the reality is that this can also be limiting to the growth of kids.
Technology services allow us to edit, filter and wordsmith ourselves into very stylized images of ourselves. With technology, we can use pictures with filters, witty hashtags that describe us, and flexible narrate our stories with elements of fact & fiction. While this might help our children gain likes or clout, that doesn’t help them grow to have a healthy relationship with others or the technology that facilitates this social proof. They begin to be more excited by likes than the activity that generated the likes.
Instead, it is better for them to use technology to figure out when their friends are available to meet at the park or to help research what movie the group can go see together at the local movie theatre. And, once they are there, have them set limits on how much time they will spend on their devices corresponding with people who aren’t there. Or, how much time they will spend on the devices documenting the time they spend so that others can know how great a time they had at the movie theatre - #frozen2.
The better kids get a connecting with each other by using technology, the more likely they will realize that technology simply supports human connection versus human connection supports technology. The more kids get validation from those that are in front of them vs. the world wide web, the more foundational self-esteem and self confidence they will have. The more kids learn to work through issues with their friends vs. blocking them on social media, the more resilience they will develop to handle challenging issues that will often occur throughout their lives.
While technology is certainly useful, it is also important to realize that technology can also help our kids connect with those whom they might not normally be able to through either geographic restrictions or otherwise. Through the flattening of the world that comes from making global connections, our students can become more empathetic world citizens. Let’s just make sure that they are not only connecting with others digitally but also building analog relationships in the physical world.
Technology is increasingly pervasive throughout our society. Just because technology is everywhere doesn’t mean that it can dominate our lives unless we allow it too. In addition, there are different modalities to screen time. Using technology as tool to build, understanding how technology should be used when researching and leveraging technology to build relationships in real life are ways that we can teach the next generations to have a more, healthy productive relationship with these devices.