Technology and Children

I have two teenagers at home, and even though I consider myself a savvy user of electronics, they will be far better versed than me in all things technology. That said, I frequently wonder what this means for children today. From simple questions about screen time to more complex questions about social media use, video games and the wide array of available content on the internet. As is always true, our children are growing up in a different technology landscape than we did. These new technology variables do not have a blue print or “how-to” guide for parents. They simply have not been around long enough. What I can tell you isn’t new, adults lamenting that the changing landscape around our children may be bad for them. It is natural to worry. It is extremely natural to worry about the unknown. That is what “technology” is for each new generation of parents, a set of unknown variable that we can not look back to our own childhood to for answers. Given the click-bait nature of our media culture, many outlets will use this natural parental worry to “sell” us the “answers” we are desperately seeking. Which is exactly how I chose my recent reading list.

I just finished a fascinating read call “Media Moms and Digital Dads” by Yalda T. Uhls, Ph.D.. The book attempts to consolidate all the ways technology touches our children’s lives today alongside the current research available on child development and the impact of said technology. I found her presentation of the research and her analysis and insight into how we can use that research to make parenting choices very helpful. Below are my take-aways from reading this book:

  1. Parents love their children and want to make the “best” choices they can to ensure they grow to be healthy, happy adults.

  2. Technology appears, from the research, to have net positive effects on growth, learning and social outcomes. While there are some things of which to be mindful (e.g., Facebook and Instagram have shown to have some mild negative effects on self-esteem) there are also many positive aspects (e.g., facilitating learning and group work, video games enhancing spatial awareness and math skills, enhancing social relationships). Articles lamenting about the negative effects of technology are often not congruent with the current research, or are over-magnifying less-likely negative outcomes.

  3. Parents worry about unknown variables in parenting with unclear “right” and “wrong” answers. Technology, with its ever-evolving landscape is an area where EVERY generation is working with a new set of variables and therefor we feel like we can’t always “learn” from our own past experiences. As Dr. Uhls points out, at one point parents were worried that novels would be the downfall of our youth (when the technology of the day was mass-produced printing).

  4. We are not reinventing any developmental wheel. While technology may be changing, what we know about how children learn and grow and the developmental continuum hasn’t changed. We can use what we know to be true to inform our decisions about these things that are changing around us.

  5. The important thing, it seems, is to really know your child and apply what you know about your child to technology as you make parenting decisions. Which I think is true for all areas of learning. If your child is a risk-taker, they will be more risky online. If your child is prone to addictive behavior (getting really obsessed with given activities), they will be more likely to do this with technology. If your child hides things from you, they will be more likely to do this with technology (with greater stakes).

SO IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO KNOW YOUR CHILD AND THEN MAKE DECISIONS THAT ARE RIGHT FOR HIM OR HER. THERE IS NO ONE-RULE FITS ALL FOR TECHNOLOGY. I would argue that is true for all areas of growth and learning. The goal is to really learn who your child is, as their own unique little being, and use that knowledge to help guide them on their path to learning and growth.

Free Play is good for everyone!

Yesterday I was at a training on boundaries and harassment in the work place. Normally, this type of training would not have much overlap with information I would find useful to share with you in our school blog, however, I was fascinated when the discussion started with the presenter saying to a room full of adults (mostly ministers) that free-play is necessary throughout life in order to maintain personal happiness and fulfillment. I couldn’t agree more.

The need to engage in enjoyable, sometimes unstructured, self-directed activities is as basic and required as any of our other needs. What activities we choose for “free-play” usually change as we get older—but the need is still there. It is easy to get swept up in lots of other things when you are a parent. We protect our children’s needs as a priority. We may even place our children’s wants on a list above our own personal needs. Yesterday was a reminder to me how important it is to meet our needs, in order to be the best adult role-models for our children. One of those needs, even for adults, is free-play. It might be reading a book, going to your Orange Theory class, attending a concert, or dancing in your living room. Whatever it is, add it to your calendar and make sure your children see you taking care of your needs too!

Teaching Children About Strangers

Today we had an enjoyable visit from Officer Tony and Officer Chandra from the Metropolitan Police Department. There are photos of the visit in the Parent Portal under the Photos and Videos link. Officers Tony and Chandra showed the children some of their police tools (a radar gun, their walkie talkies and their body cameras) and talked to them a little about their jobs. They also talked to the children about calling 9-1-1 in an emergency, always wearing seat belts and helmets, and never going with strangers. While their visit is part of several visits we have planned during the school year for various community helpers, the timing was interesting as just today I was also alerted to a kidnapping attempt in Georgetown that occurred yesterday.

While it is fresh in my mind, I think it it is good to talk a bit more about teaching your young children about safety with adults. Anyone that has tried to have this discussion with children knows that it can be difficult. It is important as a parent for you to feel comfortable talking to your children about scary topics, and one of the easiest ways to do this is to be informed. Take a moment to read some recent articles to help you find and borrow words that feel right for your and your family and your children’s developmental ages. Once you are ready with a little information, then talk to your children.

It is always good when you are having a conversation with your child where you want to share information to start by asking them what they know, and checking for their current understanding. Often times we can clear up any misconceptions and figure out where they have knowledge gaps that help guide the conversations. It is also good to start by telling your children why you want to have the conversation. For many of these conversations with young children that will sound like, “It is my job to keep you safe so I want to talk to you about how to get help when you’re not with Mommy or Daddy”, or, “It is my job to teach you how to be healthy, so we are going to talk about the best way to brush our teeth.”

For talking to your children about safety around adults, I found this article from helpful. The article offers 3 useful ways to explain to children how they can be friendly with new people while also staying safe. The language they use is “tricky people” rather than “strangers”. Anyone that has tried to explain strangers to children knows that information is not complete in teaching your children how to be safe. For starters, dangerous people are not usually strangers (many abductions are perpetrated by someone the child knows) and sometimes people that can help us are completely unknown to us, e.g., the police officers we met today were strangers to your children when they came in as are most people in the world. “Tricky people” is a good description for people that are trying to trick us into doing things that are unsafe. This article also talks about having these discussions so that you can start getting your children to trust their own instincts and be bold in speaking up for themselves or getting help when they need it (even if that means yelling, or being “rude” to an adult).

Sometimes things happen in life that are scary or unfair or gross and we wish we didn’t have to have the discussions at all with our children, but I can assure you that the children hear us discussing these things with other adults, or hear it from older siblings or see the worry on our faces, and they also need the information for their own safety—so not talking about uncomfortable things really isn’t an option. Life has a way of reminding us we need to have these discussions. Take the time to prepare yourself with the words and knowledge you need to be comfortable talking about a topic with your child. If you are uncomfortable, scared, or squeamish you are likely going to make your child feel the same way when your goal is to teach and empower them with knowledge. Once you are ready, you will find that starting these conversations early about personal safety, control over your own body and feelings, and how to keep yourself safe, and how to give consent or deny it—will pay large dividend as your children get older. You won’t have these conversations once and forget about it, rather you are starting a process that will grow and evolve with your child..

Good luck and remember to use the school as a resource should you have questions on how to have these conversations. I am happy to discuss it with you and your teachers can likely let you know more about your child’s understanding of certain topics based on their age.