A few paragraphs cannot adequately express the weight of what it means to raise children in a world of technology-driven wants/needs/desires (on behalf of both parents and their children) with truly unknown outcomes. Even before experts get a handle on what is happening to little human brains we are on to the next big thing and the PhD’s need to rethink it all over again. The difference between pre-Internet/digital age and today is that we’ve stepped into a new paradigm and we can’t feel the walls around us as they shape shift.
Like many parents, I’m dizzy with the facts, figures and feedback. And while I definitely do not have the answers; here are a few thoughts for today:
Worry less about the device, more about the activity. I’ve played it very cool and flexible with my children when it comes to digital devices; but I’ve come to believe that there needs to be a ratio of at least 75% active engagement to 25% passive consumption. While endless hours on YouTube Kids or Netflix may keep them quiet, it also can turn them into little zombies. The great news is that the right apps can transform the drudgery of any subject from something resembling homework to that of a game.
Have them catch up to where YOU are. My 6 and 7 year old have email addresses and iCloud accounts to message from. It’s good for them to learn how to login in, write, communicate. With the exception of a bit of email spam, the only people who know their address are family, so it’s not exposing them; it’s showing them the basic ways in which the world communicates today. While my daughters spend a lot of time working at school on skills such as handwriting (which I don’t argue with, it works a certain aspect of their brain) they should know how to send emails and start catching up to the way their mothers and fathers communicate with others.
…And you need to catch up to them. As parents we need to be able to keep up and get ahead of what will grab our children’s attention. You should give Snapchat a try; pay attention to what is new and talked about by millennials. The single most important reason why is not just to get down with it topically — the usability of these apps is intentionally not geared to anyone who was technology generation one. I found Snapchat unnerving because the buttons for this and that were not where I thought they would be; the swiping was not what I was used to; and that made me realize how important it was that I use it. We talk a lot about understanding what kids are accessing online but not necessarily how. The evolving user experience will change their brains and we should change ours at the same time.
Turn devices off and #chooseboredom. When we were young we were bored a lot (well, I was). Summer was this wide open expanse where we made our own fun. From kickball in the street, to catching fireflies at night; and reading books to running around town with friends. We created new adventures as a result of having ‘nothing to do’ and we can’t cheat our kids the opportunity to do the same. When they don’t have free, unscheduled time, they don’t use their imaginations and this is damaging to the ability to imagine a future world that doesn’t exist right now.
Technology will change all of us. Our parents didn’t know that they would need to prepare us for a future that resembled nothing they had seen before; and yet we’ve figured it out, haven’t we? So if we just give kids the mental muscle and social tools to navigate, it’s going to be all right in the end.