21st Century children have never known a world without smartphones, the internet, tablets, or social media. When we first began teaching, a little over a decade ago, we had to teach children how to use a mouse, navigate on a computer, and introduce tablets. We no longer have to do that. Many toddlers know how to turn on smartphones or tablets, and open to the home screen. They can even navigate Youtube to look for cartoons or videos of other children opening toys. Most, if not all, of our students come into our classes with the knowledge of how to use technology. Often times, it is second nature to them. Devices and social networks are changing childhood in extreme ways and we need to find strategies to help our children develop into healthy and balanced individuals.
The students that come into our classrooms are vastly different than the students we taught at the beginning of our careers. We have noticed that many children today are use to constant visual stimulation and instant gratification. They are not sure what to do with themselves when they do not have a device and many feel uncomfortable being bored. Their social emotional skills are underdeveloped because kids are spending more time on devices and less time playing and interacting with other children.
We are not doctors or psychologists (yet) and we cannot diagnose or treat people. And while there may be a variety of reasons for this shift in children, we believe that the biggest factor in this drastic and rapid change in our children is technology. It is our responsibility to find ways to both educate kids on healthy technology use and offset the effects of this digital revolution.
Now this post is not about how horrible technology is. In fact, we love technology, we use it in our classrooms to augment and enhance lessons, look up information for the class, and connect our students to the world. Yet, we also incorporate cutting, glueing, writing with pencils, cursive, coloring, dancing, performing, and most importantly playing and social skills. This is because there has to be balance in our classroom between technology and real world experiences. Our big theme is balance for children. We advocate balance for children, and the area of technology is no exception in and out of the classroom.
According to Dr. Tovah Klein, an expert on early childhood development, the more you use a device to calm your kids down, the less they are able to do it for themselves because they do not learn that skill. If devices are used all the time by children, they will not actually learn how to socialize, how to behave in different places and with a variety of people. They will not learn how to be bored and they will not be able to figure out a way to entertain themselves. If they have constant access to everything on the internet, they will not learn how to be creative themselves. They will not learn inventive play because they won’t have to. We need to make sure we are creating the space for them to do these things because it doesn’t organically happen like it did when we were kids.
What we can do as parents and teachers:
- Limit Screen time
- Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving
- Find media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms
- Model device free for them
- Do not use devices in restaurants and stores
- Let your child be bored so that they can play and develop social skills and creativity
- Teach proper device use
- Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
- When they use a device, interact with them. Educational apps are great, we use them!
What society can do:
- Stop judging parents over a crying child
- Stop giving dirty looks to parents and families on airplanes
- Stop expecting kids to be silent at restaurants and in public places
There is an immense amount of pressure put on parents today to know it all, do it all, and to have the perfect happy family. Kids have emotions and no matter what we do, we can’t control when they throw a fit, are feeling sad, have an outburst in a restaurant or make a scene in a grocery store. When kids are not quiet and perfect, parents are judged by society. It has become routine to throw a device at a child to keep them quiet in a public space. Let’s work together to make it okay for kids to make noise and be kids. Let’s not be so judgmental when we see a struggling parent or a misbehaving child. We don’t know the full story. What we do know is that these devices that we use to keep our kids quiet are having a real strain on our children and society as a whole. We all play a role whether we have children, are in education, work in the tech industry, or are a childless bystander. We all have an obligation to help kids navigate a world that has been revolutionized by digital media.