“Screen-Free” is a buzzword trending on Instagram and Pinterest right now, and kids using technology is a hot topic for many parents. There’s this idea that keeping kids away from screens (read: technology) is a good thing, and too much exposure — or too early — is bad for their development. But is that actually true? I suggest that you actually need to expose kids to technology early!
Most parents these days are the last generation to have relatively screen-free childhoods.
We grew up as the internet grew up and watched as it morphed into the world-wide-web that powers our world today. Our childhood memories are colored by happy memories of riding bikes to the park, drinking from the hose and tons of play far from parental eyes.
None of which would be encouraged or even permitted today.
So why this obsession with keeping our kids away from screens? Because in our experience, “screens” are associated with the passive tv-binge-watching, obsessive video-gaming, and anxiety-inducing social media we experienced. We aren’t seeing what technology is and does for our kids in reality.
The world has changed since we were kids — and since I’m not yet 40, that’s kind of hard to think about.
Feel old yet?
It’s time to take a good look at what technology is and does, how our kids interact with it, and how we can raise our children in a screen-filled world.
First, we need to expose kids to technology early.
If you want to raise kids with healthy attitudes towards anything, you give it to them early and with tons of guidance and boundaries. If you want kids to sneak behind your back, just forbid them to do something.
Keeping kids from technology makes phones, tablets, video games, and social media “forbidden fruit”. You won’t prevent them from using it, but what you will do is make it harder to teach regulation, safe use and prevent problems that can come from using it.
Instead, if you give kids access early, you can control the access better. Give them a tablet or video game time — with built in timers to control how long they play. Rather than banning it outright, set healthy limits, so that they grow up with the idea that limits are natural and normal. Help them connect with kids on a messenger app or Discord server, and you can monitor conversations and teach safety rules about what you can and can’t share online.
Second, use technology around your kids in a healthy way.
They say that more is caught than taught, and that goes for technology use as well. If all your kids see is you mindlessly scrolling Facebook, or playing video games till 2 am, they are going to normalize unhealthy habits. So we need to monitor our own use of technology, so that they see how it should be used.
“Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work with anything when it comes to parenting.
Pay attention to how much and in what way you use technology. If you want them to do other things than watch TV, turn it off — and put away your phone too. Let them catch you doing other things — chores, hobbies and planning for the future.
Model how to use technology for your kids in the way you want them to use it.
And start young. Expose kids to technology early.
Third, they need to know how to use technology effortlessly to be prepared for the future.
40 years ago, personal computing was brand new, and car phones were something only a few lucky people had. Cell phones required bags or were these huge bricks with long antennas.
30 years ago, personal computers were useful but expensive investments, and cell phones were smaller but also expensive. However, most kids were learning to type and internet access was becoming more common. And emails were replacing faxes.
20 years ago, personal computers became much more portable, and cell phones were common and affordable. Emails replaced most personal communication (instead of letters!) and businesses were starting to send commercial emails too. Social media was connecting the world and now we could shop online.
10 years ago, having a laptop, cell phone and tablet was standard for most adults, and email accounts were required for jobs, school and many government programs. Social media was almost as required.
Today? Smart phones are more powerful as computers than many laptops, and we access all functions of society via the handheld device in our pockets. Knowing how to use one is as natural as breathing for most of us.
Just think about how much has changed in our lifetime.
How quickly will life change for our kids??
Learning to type is as important as printing — but typing classes aren’t taught at the same ages as penmanship. Knowing how to navigate the internet is as important as reading is, but Google search classes aren’t included in schools.
We teach our kids how to put away their shoes and fold laundry — but do we teach them how to manage their digital files and footprints?
Knowing how to use technology safely and effectively is important. Knowing how it works, however, will give them a foundation they can build on to build the next generation of world-changing technology.
And that means our kids need to know everything we learned over the last 40 years — quickly!
They don’t have a lot of time to learn the basics. So we need to start early and treat it as an important life skill — like street safety or cooking. Expose kids to technology early and make it part of your daily life.
Lastly, technology is now required for social connection.
Kids no longer have organic playdates with the neighbourhood kids. And it’s not because technology keeps them all inside. There’s a feeling of insecurity that plagues most of our neighbourhoods — despite no proof. But most of us parents aren’t afraid of strangers attacking our kids, if we’re honest. It’s the well-meaning stranger who calls the police because *gasp* a child is playing outside without their parent, that terrifies us.
So how do we connect our kids to other families and help them make friends with other people?
Unless you’re prepared to spend a lot of time haunting the park or playground, social media will be key.
Using social media, you can find like-minded families with parenting styles, values and goals similar to yours — in your local area. You can co-ordinate playdates, park days and meet ups using messenger, text and email. And your kids can connect daily using a monitored, safe messenger app, keeping friendships alive.
And don’t think it’s homeschooling that isolates kids. Kids in public school have similar issues of staying connected outside of school, without social media and technology. Public school forced association doesn’t guarantee healthy relationships, but healthy, monitored, guided use of social media connections can help.
Evil screens? No. Technology is a tool.
Technology-use isn’t something parents need to avoid. It’s something they need to USE to raise healthy kids.
Expose your kids early and teach them how to use it in a way that benefits them. Create healthy habits as a family and give your children access to technology that sets them up for the future. And help them connect with a rapidly-changing world so that they aren’t reacting to it, but leading the change.
You need to give your kids access to technology in all its forms. It’s not evil, it’s necessary.