(click for photo credit)
I was recently invited to speak to a Women’s Connection group about the pros and cons of technology in the lives of children. The group consisted of women between the ages of 35 – 75 years who arrived concerned about the use of technology by their children and grandchildren. As described in a Common Sense Media article, all current generations are living within a grand, unplanned experiment with little guidance or research evidence for best practices. As I scoured recent available research findings in preparation for the presentation, my 12 year-old son asked me what I was working on, offered to help, and very quickly found some interesting and useful articles.
My son is responsible for expanding my knowledge over the past decade about the pitfalls and benefits of technology. He is a “gamer” and watches YouTube videos far more than his older siblings. While I struggle to teach him about moderation in his use of technology, he tries his best to comply and correctly calls me out for spending too much time looking at my own phone! He started using educational technology in a 1:1 program in kindergarten. His teacher was unfamiliar with tablets and I became the “iPad mom,” preparing and teaching weekly 30 minute lessons with educational apps in rotating small groups. A highlight of this experience was when a child with ADD focused and stayed on task for a 30-minute math lesson using an app and block counters – an achievement he had never experienced with typical pedagogical strategies. I enjoyed the excited smiles on 20 little faces when I walked in the classroom and they realized it was iPad time. There was no question in my mind that technology engaged children in learning but I didn’t yet know if this type of learning was generalizable beyond the tablet. Two years later, I began conducting efficacy research for a digital early learning curriculum and became immersed in the extensive world of educational technology.
It's easy to get caught up in the fun and innovation of apps, yet I couldn’t deny my observations of the increase in young children staring passively at screens while in strollers and high chairs, the decreasing age at which children obtain smart phones, and the impact of FOMO (fear of missing out) on the emotional well-being of teens. Today’s youth have less experience with talking on the phone or face-to-face communication and the long-term impact of this when they enter the workforce is unknown. Despite these concerns, as well as many others (predators, exposure to inappropriate content, identity theft, cyber bullying, etc.), a summation of the available research, thus far, seems to indicate that the benefits of educational technology and social media are numerous and generalizable across contexts for a positive impact on well-being and learning when adults supervise time and content on screens, create tech-free zones (click for Yondr’s solution), and model moderate usage.
After 90 minutes of engaged, interactive discussions with the women attending my presentation, my closing comments were about adapting our perspective of technology. We need to celebrate the knowledge and skills that our children are gaining from their use of technology at home and in school. We also need to create an open dialogue with our children about our concerns for their safety and provide them with opportunities to practice the other skills that might be missed, including self-discipline to maintain moderate levels of usage. Most of all, we need to acknowledge that educators, parents, and grandparents are doing their best to make good decisions in a dynamic world of tech that evolves so quickly, we rarely have a chance to understand the impact of our choices.