Stuart Dredge has become something of an authority on the role of technology and children. I’ve often followed his recommendations for educational apps and have even had my eight-year old experimenting with coding through apps such as Tynker. Needless to say, I’m very much aligned to Stuart’s mindset; today’s youngsters will grow into a world where the skills needed to succeed professionally are light years away from those that I needed to master during the 70’s.
Of course, there are some constants; social skills for example. But how today’s children master problem solving and language have almost certainly benefited from the digital revolution. I say benefited with absolute conviction because I’ve seen first-hand how my own children learn through digital tools and the gamification of subjects such as mathematics.
And yet any suggestion of the benefits delivered to children from digital technologies still draws such vitriolic attacks.
Stuart’s recent piece in The Guardian (online) listed 25 of the best apps for children when travelling this summer. It was a sensible piece, comprising apps for entertainment, creativity, problem solving and education. And yet the comments section quickly filled with vitriol.
- “What a stupid article highlighting more useless drivel to hinder their childs [sic] development. How about not relying on electronic devices to keep children occupied. Old fashioned parental interaction with the child should be norm.”
- “Why bother when you can abandon parental responsibilities and give them a device that will impede their mental development? This is grotesque and is symptomatic of everything wrong with modern life. indicative of why the future will be worse than the present.”
- “Prefer to keep my kids off stupid apps, thank you.”
- “This article is nauseating.”
You get the point.
The arguments are strange, but expected. I imagine the same arguments being presented when the first computers were introduced into schools. People seem hard-wired to resist change, perhaps it’s the feeling of uncertainty or a loss of control?
The arguments assume a lack of parental control. The astringent commentators seem unable to comprehend that technology plays a role in balanced education. Instead the myopic assumption is that technology is used as a replacement for traditional learning or as distraction to keep children occupied.
I don’t doubt that there are some parents who use technology as a baby-sitter. But I also don’t doubt that many of these commentators grew-up in a generation where the television, radio or VCR was used in much the same way. We’ve all done it at some point.
But to assume that this is the sole purpose of apps is blindly ignorant. The same parental skills are needed. Managing screen time and vetting apps is just another skill to be mastered by today’s parents.
My daughters are both under eight. They each have a tablet and as a sensible parent I chose the technology based on my ability to control it. My youngest has a Kindle Fire HD and I applaud Amazon’s responsible approach; it allows me to set educational targets requiring my daughter to read for an hour before it allows her access to an entertainment app. I can block certain apps or ensure it can’t be switched on after 7pm. I am in control.
For my eldest daughter, technology is completely integrated with her learning. I’ve seen her spend hours on her tablet researching the solar system, then pick up a pen and paper and write a thoughtful poem about the planets. Sure she enjoys curling into her beanbag to watch something on Netflix, but no more so than she enjoys swimming, riding or any other physical exercise.
It’s about balance. It always has been. Don’t blame new technology for the age-old problem of poor parenting.
What do you think?