Technology for Tykes
Get ready. Just when you thought you knew the touchscreen generation, they got younger on you. Not only are attention spans decreasing and multi-tasking increasing, but children are intuitively using tablets and portable devices at one-year-old. Yes, that’s right—one-year-old.
In a recent publication of the Journal, Pediatrics, researchers found “almost universal exposure” to tablets and the use of smart phones (mobile devices) among young children. A 2013 report said that “72 percent of children age 8 and under have used a mobile device for some type of media activity." Last year a survey showed that “nearly 97 percent of parents said their children used mobile devices of some sort."
Here are the most surprising findings in Pediatrics:
- Nearly 97 percent of parents said their children used mobile devices of some sort.
- At age 4, the survey found three-fourths of kids owned their own mobile device.
- Of those children, about half multi-tasked on more than one screen at a time.
- 20 percent of one year olds own a tablet computer.
- 28 percent of two year olds can navigate a mobile device with no help.
- 28 percent of parents use the device to put their kids to bed.
Most surprising to lead researcher, Matilde Irigoyen, was how quickly children as young as three years old use such devices on their own. It goes without saying—it’s a new world we live in today.
What Does All This Mean?
Let me offer some ideas on how we can make sense of this emerging world, and continue to grow healthy, well-adjusted children who are at home with technology, but are not addicted to the point that their emotional intelligence and relational skills are retarded in their growth.
Do you remember when we used to say, “Middle school is the new high school?” What we meant was that kids were being exposed to realities earlier than in past generations. It used to be that sex and illegal drugs were the hot topic for teens in high school. Now, kids get exposed to them in middle school. The same could be said for realities such as smart phones and video games, social media and YouTube. Instagram is the new Facebook. Snapchat is the new text message. Twitter is the new micro-blog. Are students ready for these realities in elementary school and pre-school? Adults will have to decide that. Until then, here are some thoughts on how to best navigate technology with your kids:
- Remember that children (in general) cannot comprehend an addictive behavior. Adults must lead them into healthy moderation, where they both understand and enjoy technology, but utilize it as a servant rather than a master.
- Remember that children will choose ice cream over lima beans—and screens over healthy alternatives for play. While there are some exceptions, adults must be the one to lead them into developing emotionally, and introduce behaviors and habits that produce maturity.
- Remember that children are drawn to entertainment, whether or not they learn something from it. This is the genius behind TV shows like Sesame Street, Blues Clues, Super Why and Mr. Rogers. Adults must leverage what they’re magnetically drawn to and make it redemptive.
Seeing what’s happening in our world, I believe we must harness technology for constructive and redemptive purposes. By this I mean we must do more than whine about kids being in front of screens all the time. We must find ways to use it to mature them and develop them as leaders, and career-ready graduates.
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