Raising Kids in a High-Tech World

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If we parents are conflicted about how our young kids interact with technology – from Tablets and DVDs to iPhones, iPads, iPods and iDon’tKnowWhatElse – who can blame us? Not Hanna Rosin, who writes compellingly in The Atlantic this month about the plugged-in push-pull parents face.

Back in 2006, notes Rosin, 90 percent of parents said their children under 2 used some kind of electronic media. With over 118 million tablets sold in 2012, imagine how high much higher that number must be today.

The reality is our kids are exposed to technology every day. Rosin dubs them “the touchscreen generation,” and explores the theory that banishing technology outright may be a simple, if dramatic, response, but perhaps not the most appropriate one. Maybe, she posits, technology – especially today’s interactive technology – can be beneficial to our children.

“People say we are experimenting with our children,” Sandra Calvert, director of the Children’s Media Center at Georgetown University, told Rosin. “But from my perspective, it’s already happened, and there’s no way to turn it back. Children’s lives are filled with media at younger and younger ages, and we need to take advantage of what these technologies have to offer.”

If we adults use technology not just to entertain, but also to enrich and educate ourselves, as you are doing right now, how can we help our children do that as well?

Rosin cites guidelines laid out by Lisa Guernsey in the book “Screen Time.” Guernsey proposes what she terms the Three C’s:

1. Content: “Think about the content of what your children see on screen.” Programming or technology that is age-appropriate – designed for and directed to children — and encourages the children to interact with what they see onscreen – by asking open-ended questions, for instance – may engage children more.

2. Context: “Think about the context — who is with them, how are they talking about what they see, how much the DVD or online game dominates their day.” Studies show that when parents sit with their young children as they watch and talk to their children about something that they are watching or experiencing together, they are enhancing their children’s language-development readiness. One study showed that verbal media interactions between parent and child with educational programming significantly enhanced children’s language skills eight months later. Researchers compare watching a video to reading a book, in that the experience is profoundly enriched when parents ask their children questions about what is on the page and what their children think might happen next.

3. Child: “Think about what makes sense for your individual child, whose needs and interests will be unique to him or her alone.” What works for the neighbor’s child may not work for yours, and vice versa.

The technological landscape our children have been born into is not likely to go away. Both Guernsey and Rosin contend that we parents ought not to try to run from it, but rather to find ways to help our children explore it so that media can enrich their lives, and maybe even teach them something useful, like a second language!

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