by Amelia Watkins
In the last decade or so, media itself has become obsessed with the condemnation of technology and social media. A quick Google search yields dozens upon dozens of articles lamenting society’s obsession with computers and phones: “6 Bad Habits to Blame on Technology” reads one, and “Too Much Technology is Bad for the Brain” another. And yet, our dependency and usage only expands with the years, leaving parents questioning what relationship their child should have with tech and, perhaps more importantly, if their influence ultimately matters.
As I have mentioned before on this segment, I am a firm believer that there are no universal rules for parenting, and that is no different regarding the regulation, or lack thereof, of technology. However, there is a bit of perspective I would like to offer. While it may be natural to seek for your kid a childhood reminiscent of your own, our society is evolving, and childhood with it. Rapidly advancing technology and a changing environment will result in a different experience for those who are kids now and those who will be soon. Though only nineteen, my childhood was drastically different than that of my eleven-year-old cousin. Computers and tablets were introduced in sixth grade and became staples of my education by tenth grade. In the span of four years, I have seen the expansion of tech in both my education, occupation, and social life. This will only intensify in the coming decades and therein lies my point: the urge to shun tech for the youth out of a distrust or concern for it threatens a social and vocational handicap. Social networking site usage is only increasing, and computer engineering is projected to be one of the highest grossing college majors of 2017. An ignorance and unfamiliarity with technology will be a disadvantage – one that may be overcome, of course, but that perhaps should not have to exist to begin with. The ability to code, repair a computer, or simply navigate social media and web browsers efficiently are and will be expected, employable skills. Much like language, which can be picked up at any point in life, it is considerably easier to learn if one begins their education in childhood.
The specifics of when are of little interest; there is no universal rule for the age at which one should begin using a tablet or computer. Whether you get your child a cell phone in fifth grade or ninth, or let him/her use a computer starting in junior high, is on you. Earlier is better, in my opinion, but every family and situation is different. That being said, all things should be taken in moderation and the Internet is no exception. Caution in the amount of time one spends online is reasonable and recommended – Internet addiction is a legitimate condition, and too much time spent in front of a screen can disrupt sleep schedules. Some families have “No-Tech Tuesdays” or disable Internet connection past a certain time. An avid gamer myself, I regularly limit my own Internet access during work-heavy weeks. Especially for older kids, cell phones and the Internet can be legitimate distractors. Luckily, they are also easily overcome by removing oneself (or one’s child) from the situation.
A family friend allows her two ten-year-old to watch educational YouTube videos or play education games on her iPad for an hour each night, and limits television to only a couple times a week.
“I am not good with phones and computers, but I want my kids to be. They have to be. There are great apps and programs to supplement schoolwork now,” said Julianne Hudson, 38.
Net safety is a similarly important topic to Hudson, who currently monitors her children’s time online, but will soon discuss the importance of protecting personal information, not talking to strangers, and, on a lighter note, not making in-app game purchases. “If they’re going to be online on their own soon or using phones, then I want to make sure they’re safe, smart, and not draining my wallet.”
Finally, it is not all doom and gloom! While questions of when to introduce tech and how to limit time online are legitimate, technology offers a plethora of resources for parents. Apps like ABCmouse and EndlessReader bolster young kids’ literacy, while others like codeSpeak and Hopscotch introduce fundamental coding skills. For older kids, resources like KhanAcademy help them to tackle difficult math problems that parents may be unable to solve. The number of apps or programs available are virtually endless and, while they certainly do not substitute for a teacher’s guidance or a parent’s help, they are useful supplements to everyday learning.
There is no universal answer for when or how to introduce technology at home. In reality, kids will get a dose of it at school starting earlier and earlier, and perhaps an unwillingness to compromise on tech at home will ultimately be a detriment to their social and academic education – or maybe it will have no effect at all. Regardless, I suggest only that you be cognizant of the world your child is growing up in and how it differs from yours, and that you consider what you can do to make their childhood a good, advantageous platform for their future.
What a timely article by Amelia, a first-year college student! We get a tremendous number of questions about technology, video games, and on and on. What do you think of her feelings, ideas, and suggestions? (You might also be interested in Video Game Play and Addiction: A Guide for Parents by Kourosh Dini).
⎯ Paul C. Holinger, M.D.