My family and friends often seem puzzled when I tell them that my six year old son doesn’t really know how to use a computer. After all, I teach technology to kids as young as three. This might seem a bit hypocritical, but I’m not the only techie to do that. Actually, according to an article in The New York Times, the tech guru himself, Steve Jobs was a low tech parent. So why are some techie parents reluctant to emerge their kids in technology? Here are my reasons and why low tech parenting works for our family:
1. The Dangers
Being so immersed in technology myself as a result of my job, I am well aware of its pitfalls and dangers. From encountering inappropriate material and cyber bullying to becoming addicted to the use of electronic devices, I am not willing to let my son have unsupervised or unlimited time on a computer or tablet. When the time comes and he needs or wants to use the internet to do research, social media to connect with others, or other online tools to create media, I hope to teach him and give him the tools to do so appropriately and safely.
2. Timing is Everything
The question of when to introduce a child to computes should really depend on when they show an interest in some of the things they can do using technology. As soon as my son began to draw, I introduced him to drawing programs on the computer; but as it turned out, he preferred to use crayons, markers, and especially paint. Then he started reading and, being a tech teacher, I showed him some online reading programs. Well wouldn’t you know it, he enjoyed cuddling up together with one of his parents to read real books far more than sitting in front of a computer. He’s also shown an interest in watching music videos from YouTube and playing online games, but I limit the time he spends doing either, and it’s always with adult supervision.
As every working parent knows, the quality time you have to spend with your child is limited by the fact that they are at school and you are at work for most of the day. Then there’s other responsibilities and commitments, such as cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, swimming lessons, etc. I don’t really want to spend the little free time I have with my child in front of a computer teaching him research skills or digital citizenship rules unless I really have to. That is something I truly believe should be taught in school and reinforced at home. And of course, I would not be comfortable with him going on that “playground” without any adult supervision. However, I’d much rather go on a bike ride, play a board game, or visit a country fair and have some good old-fashion family fun.
4. Active and Purposeful vs. Passive Engagement
I worry about the amount of ‘screen-time’ my child gets without actively engaging in a purposeful task. That does not only include computers but also watching television. I think that there are other activities he could be involved in that will encourage his creativity and social growth a lot more. That’s not to say that I never hand him an iPad and sit him in my shopping cart while trying to decide what to buy in a store. I do my best not to make it a habit though.
5. Tech/Life Balance
There is no substitute for human contact, especially when it comes to children’s interactions with their parents. Kids watch what we do, then shadow and learn from it. That is why it is especially important to me to try and model a tech/life balance for my son. In today’s tech filled world it is crucial to teach children how to relate to others, without the use of electronic devices. It is important to talk and listen to them, instead of messaging and replying. Taking the opportunities to do that on a daily basis; at the dinner table, during a stroll in the park, while visiting a new place, or getting ready for bed is what keeps us connected. Or not talking at all, allowing for reflection and developing an awareness of self and nature. I have recently come upon a couple of great picture books that deal with this very subject. One is Dot. by Randi Zuckerberg:
and the other is Doug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarino:
Both authors deal beautifully with the importance of a balance between technology and real life. For more about the tech/life balance see my earlier post here: Living vs. Documenting the Moment
A few days ago I attended a lecture by Dr. Alec Couros at a Leadereship Launch for Peel educators. During his talk, Alec showed a few images of people using their phones or other PEDs to take pictures or send text messages while in the midst of important life events (a kiss, a reunion, a plane crash). He pointed out that although technology can make us more connected, there is a potential danger of missing opportunities to live in and enjoy special moments with those who are physically around us at the expense of constantly documenting our experiences for others through social media.
As he was saying this I was trying to connect to the Wi-Fi network with my iPad, and although my heart was in total agreement with his point, my mind was racing with curiosity about what others were tweeting about the lecture. As Alec went on, my palms were actually getting sweaty from pulling down my twitter feed, hoping the Wi-Fi would finally connect. I realized, as I sat there trying to focus on the amazing lecture, that I have become like the people on the pictures, not able to fully engage in and appreciate the moment.
When did this happen? I used to be the person telling my husband to put the camera away during family vacations or special occasions. I constantly reminded him that we should enjoy whatever experience we were immersed in, instead of capturing everything for others to see later. Yet here I was, after looking forward to Alec’s talk for days, all stressed out and frazzled over a poor Internet connection.
As our school’s Open House was scheduled to start at six o’clock that same day, I had to leave the lecture early and rush back to school. On the short drive back I went over some of the things I wanted to communicate to parents about the use of technology in our school. However, the thought that kept running through my mind was how uncomfortable being ‘unplugged’ made me feel during the lecture, and how disappointed I was with myself for feeling that way. Was I becoming a Twitter ‘junkie’? Did I need a social media detox, a fast from all electronic devices to help me appreciate being in the moment?
Recently, students at Rick Hansen S.S. did just that, for 23 hours. The idea was to give up using all PEDs in order to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. During their overnight fast, students stayed at the school and “took part in a variety of team building exercises and workshops to build skills in face-to-face communication and advocacy” (http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/-1838082.htm). Although some reported that being without a cell phone was difficult, the majority of tweets after the event were very positive:
That evening I spoke to many parents during our Open House, mainly discussing the use of technology in our school. However, I also ended up having some honest conversations with several parents about the need for balance when it comes to technology. As much as I am in favour of using social media to collaborate and make meaningful connections with people around the globe, I think it’s increasingly important in today’s tech-filled world not to do so at the expense of truly appreciating and experiencing real life events. Without the temptation of using our mobile devices, it can actually be liberating to purposefully unplug once in a while (just like the students at Rick Hansen S.S. have done) and allow ourselves to fully appreciate the moment. So, as the saying goes, I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to “stop and smell the roses” more often, instead of taking their picture to post for others to enjoy on social media.