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!

The Purpose of Preschool

Meghan Leahy, a local parenting coach and contributor to the Washington Post On Parenting section, was recently asked about how much a 3-year-old should be “learning”. I believe the mom was talking specifically about academic learning rather than general growth, and Meghan’s response, as always, is worth the read. It also brings me to write about the purpose of preschool “education”.

Numerous studies have shown that high quality early-childhood education is beneficial to later growth but few have talked about what defines quality. We can agree that schools should be knowledgeable in development, and help children meet milestones, or recognize when they aren’t. We agree that schools should be safe spaces, where children learn to trust the teachers and are comfortable among their peers. Beyond that, the variety in curriculum and purpose is vast. It can be hard to distinguish the factors that make for quality early-learning. There are lots of environmental factors you could look for to see that a setting is a place “made” for children. But for this post, I am going to talk specifically about the purpose of an early childhood education experience---and, perhaps, not surprisingly, it does not include teaching children the A-B-Cs.

I believe that quality early childhood experiences should be setting the stage for lifelong learning. Children’s earliest school experiences should be largely focused on creating environments that allow children to be themselves and participate, so that the teachers can observe how they learn and grow. In turn, the teacher will share what they observe with parents to make sure parents know what works best for their child in a school-setting. Knowing what circumstances set your child up for learning success (and failure) is extremely useful in making sure a school is a good fit for your child.

Additionally, all school experiences should be preparing you and your child for what is coming next. In addition to ensuring your child is growing and learning appropriately for his/her developmental level, schools should prepare your child for upcoming transitions and new schools. The BEST way preschool teachers can prepare your child for the next step is to really know your child, and to know your family’s intentions. Some children will have different paths forward: Metropolitan sends children to many schools when they leave us. While our teachers know what skills children need to master and the milestones they should hit given their age, knowing where they are headed over the summer, next year, or after Metropolitan can help teachers have meaningful discussions with you about how you can support your child.

By the time your child enters elementary school, you should have some good insight from your child’s teachers about how your child learns and grows and what settings maximize their growth potential. All children can learn and grow and, the right setting can enhance their capacity for growth and learning. What setting is “right” will vary based on the child—your teachers should be a resource for helping you recognize that setting for your child.