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Toddlers and Technology: The Rise of Pint-Sized Digital Natives
If you've babysat a young child recently, you've probably noticed a habit most of them have picked up.
Yes, most parents now shake their heads in amusement as their toddlers automatically try to swipe TVs and books. Turning the page is a whole new concept to the digitally savvy toddler.
Is this little habit funny or something we should be concerned about? When Steve Jobs was asked what his kids think of the iPad, Jobs responded: “They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”
But how is all this technology affecting kids? Is growing up immersed in technology turning them into digital savants or pale kids who spend all their time indoors?
Let’s first take a look at what some of the tech world’s most prominent figures had to say about the relationships their kids have with technology.
Low-tech schools favoured by high-tech parents
In the US technology capital, Silicon Valley, you might expect a trend of kids enrolling in tech-savvy progressive schools. In actual fact, the more involved with the tech industry parents seem to be, the more likely they are to send their kids to a school where old-fashioned HB pencils, knitting needles and occasionally even mud are favoured over computer screens.
The trend of tech execs and engineers who limit their kids' access to technology is prevalent in the home too.
Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics, drone makers, and father of five explained to the New York Times, “My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules… That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology first-hand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”
Anderson isn't alone. Ali Partovi, of iLike, Facebook, and Dropbox claims that he is very weary of what his kids use technology for. He maintains that there should be a strong distinction between time spent consuming technology versus creating using computers.
“Just as I wouldn’t dream of limiting how much time a kid can spend with her paintbrushes, or playing her piano, or writing, I think it’s absurd to limit her time spent creating computer art, editing video, or computer programming,” he said.
Those who knew Steve Jobs and were familiar with the time he spent with his family claim that he was conscious of never bringing the office home with him.
Walter Isaacson, author of "Steve Jobs", spent a lot of time in the Jobs' home and had this to say about his time with the family: “Every evening Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen, discussing books and history and a variety of things. No one ever pulled out an iPad or computer. The kids did not seem addicted at all to devices.”
We’ve heard what tech experts have to say about tech, but is the internet safe for kids?
Though some may argue that the greatest threat to allowing your kids to use technology at a young age is them becoming addicted to their devices, there are many other concerns to think about too.
The internet is filled with unsuitable content like pornography and online chat rooms. Cyberbullying is a huge epidemic that many younger internet users can easily find themselves falling victim to.
And as we see all the time, once something is written online, it can come back to haunt the writer. An American teenager was fired after taking to Twitter to complain about her job. Goodbye job.
Most kids (and plenty of adults) aren't mature enough to realise that a nasty comment made online is even more dangerous than the verbal equivalent.
But don't let that scare you away from allowing your kids to use the internet. The internet is a great place for kids if it’s used right. Young entrepreneurs are building businesses, making millions from their bedrooms, and picking up skills in everything from coding to digital media and hand-eye-coordination. And all thanks to technology.
Back in 2009, then nine-year-old Henry Patterson made global news for setting up his third business and smashing his monthly sales target in a week.
The internet is a little like an online playground: there’s always the risk that your kid might be picked on, but there’s plenty of great memories to be made too. Once you make sure to teach your kids about netiquette and online safety, the internet can be a hugely positive place.
What implications will technology have on kids' physical wellbeing?
Many studies talk about how TV and video game usage is linked to increased levels of obesity. Chances are, you’ve heard and read all these stories before. The cold hard facts are there. Kids are spending too much time with tech and are growing up more susceptible to diabetes and heart conditions.
As a parent, you need to set a rule that for every few hours of TV or gaming, they must spend 30 minutes playing outside, or at swim/dance/gymnastics class.
Sleep deprivation is another concern for parents with kids who spend too much time with their favourite tech.
Countless studies have confirmed that kids who are allowed to watch TV, play with an iPad or are given a phone close to bedtime are often tired and grumpy, with lower concentration levels.
The solution here is an easy one: as with adults in the house, technology should be banned an hour before bedtime. Put the Xbox away and sit down to read your kids a bedtime story to help them drift off to the land of nod.
Should we also be concerned about our kids’ mental health being affected by technology?
According to a study undertaken at the University of Bristol in 2010, technology overuse can be a factor in the rise in childhood depression, anxiety and learning disabilities.
“Watching TV or playing computer games for more than two hours a day is related to greater psychological difficulties irrespective of how active children are,” said Dr Angie Page, author of the report.
While it’s easy to see the negatives, plenty of kids use technology as a creative outlet.
The hugely popular Minecraft is a computer game that stimulates the mind and requires creativity and concentration to succeed in—at its base it’s like Lego in digital form, as kids use blocks they’ve mined to craft (now you know!) buildings and communities.
While you might be tempted to read damning stats and panic, technology is often a source of good. It’s all about how you talk about tech with your kids.
So should we not allow our kids to use technology?
Let’s be realistic: you probably can’t stop your kids from using technology. It’s becoming an important part of the curriculum in schools around the UK and it’s used pretty much everywhere.
Technology is an increasingly important part of modern life. Monitoring our kids’ access to tech is the solution. You can make certain parts of the home a tech-free zone and lead by example: no using your phone at mealtimes or messing about on your iPad or smartphone when your kid wants to play.
For a more scientific approach to how long your kids should be allowed online, have a look at this table created by noted Paediatric Occupational Therapist, Cris Rowan, who set out guidelines for how long kids should spend with tech.
Technology Use Guidelines for Children and Youth
What’s the key takeaway?
Playtime hasn’t disappeared. It’s just changing. While kids aren’t as likely to be running around and playing outside, they are inside slaying dragons and going on adventures, and doing everything their parents did. They’re just using a different medium.
While it’s important to make sure your kids get plenty of exercise and fresh air, technology is only damaging if your kids use it in a negative way, or use it too much. Talk to your kids about online safety and set restrictions on how much time they’re allowed to spend with tech and they’ll be fine.
While your kids might argue that Minecraft is their life, make sure that their tech time is matched with time spent playing in the great outdoors. Your kids will probably be grumpy about having to put the controller down, but just like those piano lessons and cod liver oil forced on you at their age, they'll appreciate it when they're older.
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