5 Simple Do’s and Don’ts for Early Technology Use
By Jocelynn Buckentin, Technology Innovation Specialist
I always get a feeling of guilt I get when I hand my child a device. The stigmas that surround kids and device use cause me to feel this way, even if I know it’s being used in a developmentally appropriate way.
Sometimes I sheepishly use devices as a temporary distraction, but more often than not we focus on exploration and creation. Recommendations for adolescent device use typically contradict one another and leave parents with more questions than answers. Some advocate for a complete avoidance of technology before age two, while others promote a balance between appropriate technology use and other methods of learning and play. Children are growing up at a time where technology is everywhere, and the lines between play, learning and screen time have blurred. Instead of avoiding technology, we should focus on how to help children become literate across all kinds of media.
I’d like to take a step back and introduce myself. I am a mother of two young children, and serve as technology innovation specialist for the district. My job is to provide support and guidance to teachers as we identify and integrate technology into the classroom. It is critical for our students to be introduced to the ways technology can help them learn. While devices are often used for entertainment, we don’t want students to view them only in this way. If my son looks at an iPad and only sees a way to watch Netflix, then I’ve failed him. I aim to provide a balanced approach to device use at home. We love to play and read together, and our technology use doesn’t interfere with that.
We have a variety of personal technology at home that both my children know how to use and navigate. I’ve found that my children are more focused when I use devices alongside them to provide context, guide them through an app, provide assistance when they get stuck, and model proper methods. I set my children up for success when I go through new apps with them first.
Think about it this way– if a parent gives their children a book and they cannot read, they may look at the pictures or scan the text for familiar words, but chances are that they will lose interest rather quickly. If a parent were to read the book to them, the experience becomes a hundred times more meaningful. You are able to have conversations about what you read, put scenes into context, ask questions, and allow your child to experience the book without fear of failure.
If you replace the word “book” with “tablet,” and the word “read” with “navigate,” the power of being a “guide on the side” begins to take shape. Children do not automatically know how to navigate technology. We often hear adults marvel that kids are experts on devices, but they are typically witnessing superficial usage. This brings me to my next point. There is a huge difference between passive consumption of content, and active creation of content. It’s the difference between reading a book and writing your own. When we are passive consumers of technology, we develop a glazed-over look. When we create content with technology, that look is replaced with one of active concentration and excitement.
Pay close attention to your kids the next time they are using technology and see if you can spot the difference. As a teacher, I see it daily. When students use devices passively, the room is quiet while students are concentrating. When students are using their devices for creation, a different environment emerges. Kids light up with excitement, ask questions, and share their knowledge in new ways.
The key to setting up children for success with technology is dependent on five key points:
1. DO guide your child through the use of technology by exploring content alongside them.
2. DO set boundaries and time limits for passive technology use, but DO NOT restrict creative technology use. Think about guidelines for television watching at home, and place passive screen time in this same category. As for creative use, use your judgment. When content creation is happening, I’d rather watch the magic happen than to limit it!
3. DO NOT use technology as a pacifier. Your child’s future teachers will thank you! Does this mean that you can’t quiet your screaming toddler in the Target checkout line? Not necessarily. It does, however, mean that doing something like that consistently is going to lead to the same battle playing out between your child and their teacher in school, especially when it’s time to put the technology away.
4. DO model the responsible use of technology. Show your kids how technology can be used to help them find answers to their questions and solve problems. On the flip side of that coin, practice what you preach in setting down devices while driving, or during dinner or family time. Children tend to pick up habits from mom or dad. Set a positive example for your children.
5. DO your due diligence when selecting digital content. When searching for apps, beware of those that make too much noise or contain advertising. This can lead to distraction. When selecting educational apps, read Common Sense Media reviews or chat with your child’s teacher to discover what they use. Finally, set passcode locks on anything for purchase.
Every family will manage technology differently, and that’s OK. Give your children time to play, create and use their imaginations, with or without technology. Take some time to recognize and understand the difference between passive and creative screen time, and explore some creative apps alongside your child to see learning in action. We may never have a clear and defined path to follow regarding children and technology, but the most important thing is to find a balance.