Parenting with Technology

Let’s just admit it: our children are firmly living in a world of technology. My generation (graduating high school in the late 1990s) might be the last one that remembers not having the Internet in high school and only a little bit in college. We will be the dinosaurs that say, “I had to use the card catalogue to write my history report,” much like we might remember our own parents recounting what it was like getting their first family television set.

While I yearn for a pace that is less manic and less filled with handheld distractions, I also am not sticking my head in the sand. IPods/Pads/Phones, the Internet, on-demand TV, televisions in plane and car seats, computer games, computers in school – all of this can add up to a lot of screen time if we’re not careful.

I’m mad about a TedTalk (webcast speech) by sociologist Sherry Turkle who speaks to how our technology can keep us together, yet alone. It is worth the 20 minute listen to hear how Turkle sums up so eloquently the dangers – and opportunities – that our technology can have for us all, and our children in particular.

Lately, every time I look at my Twitter account for my work, I see new articles with data and opinions about kids and technology. One article on Slate.com says the jury is still out on the impact of iPad apps on toddler’s learning and growth. A report by an actual colleague of mine discusses how to find the education in educational technology with early learners. And, I’ve stumbled on educational apps at Getting Smart, KnackMaster and Famingo. In a true smack down of the “technology do” versus the “technology don’t”, the Washington Post ran an article in May comparing the Flint Hill School in nearby Oakton (constantly connected) to the approach used in the Waldorf School in Maryland (off the grid). I’ve long thought about one day sending Ladybug to a Waldorf School – I will continue my investigations.

I’ve enjoyed reading work by Lisa Guernsey, at New America Foundation and author of the above Slate.com article, who is a bit of a guru on the topic of education and early childhood experience. Her recent book, Screen Time: How Electronic Media – From Baby Videos to Educational Software – Affects Your Young Child, came out earlier this year.

So what’s our family approach to technology in the early years?

Remember when Playdough was entertainment enough? For our Ladybug, it still can be. Nice lobster, Daddy!

The Olympics and the terrible twos have nudged us toward screen time. First, it’s fun to watch sporting events and talk about them with Ladybug. She especially likes the swimming, exclaiming, “Water!”. And, on one hot, napless Saturday afternoon, we finally opened up a baby shower gift of a Sesame Street DVD compilation. There’s apparently nothing a little Elmo can’t fix. So, we dipped our toe in the technology ocean and watched TV together, and this seems to be the approach du jour. The iPhone apps are largely reserved for moments of pending breakdown when out and about.

How about you? How do you introduce your young children to screen time?

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7 thoughts on “Parenting with Technology

  1. Hi Melanie,
    I have a friend who has/had her kids at the Waldorf school. Not sure if they are still going there, but if you need to research it, let me know and I can get you in touch with her.
    Roula

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  2. Thanks for this great article. Vivian went to a Montessori school, which not the same as Waldorf, it is still close … no technology while in school, but live practice, like washing windows, or scrubbing tables. You have no idea how many steps are involved in scrubbing tables (like over 50 – her teacher demonstrated that). This is what helped Viv deal with my separation from her dad. As for technology at home. We have kept the computer away from her until about age 5, she was able to watch some TV, but again very limited, just like you mentioned.

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  3. Thanks for the article and links. I am the co-founder of one of the companies you mentioned, KnackMaster. It is important to consider that smart devices like the iPhone or iPad are new technology. As companies like KnackMaster learn to balance the educational and entertainment aspects of this technology, young families will see more effective learning apps in the market. As a parent of young children, I agree that parents are responsible to moderate the amount of technolgy and entertainment children are exposed everyday. One of the greatest challenges for parents is to keep up with new technology development. This is where media, blogs, organizations and even companies should do a better job to educate parents in an honest and transparent way. Thanks again for your perspective.

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    • Thanks, Ricardo. I certainly do look forward to even more effective learning apps. Our foray into the app world hasn’t landed us a lot that’s very appropriate for our 2.5 year old – she doesn’t understand some apps, while others that are seemingly for her age are too boring to her. I look forward to using your app more when she gets just a bit bigger. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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