Friday, June 20, 2014

How I've Learned to Embrace Technology for My Kids

You've probably read or at least noticed the Huffington Post article "10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12". Unless you live under a rock, like me. I only noticed it days later and only because it came up in my Facebook feed. 

As I read it I had to both nod in agreement and cringe in disagreement. I don't want to offer up some one-sided "science" studies here or make lofty arguments. My response comes from a place of personal experience and my favorite - common sense. You often see me referring to common sense here on Eco-Babyz, it's like a lost art, seriously. 

I've had my first computer at age 12 or 13, a monstrosity that took up an entire corner desk. I actually still have my first email address, though I seldom check it anymore. Like many of you I've lived through the technology boom. I was fortunate, however, to have a fairly tech-free childhood for the first 12 years. We had television and I even had a Nintendo back in Russia and played Mario! But I only remember using it during the long Russian winters, my spring, fall, and summer were spent outdoors. 

As I prepared to become a parent and then we welcomed our first child, Baby E, I had a phobia of mixing kids and technology. We also experienced first hand that too much TV time changed our toddler for the worst and our TV free experiment yielded tons of benefits. Yes, I wrote about childhood TV addiction as well. 

It is sad to me that right now, for many children around the country, television replaces interaction with parents, siblings, and the world. They wake up with it, go to bed with it, eat in front of it, watch it while mom makes dinner, takes a shower, cleans the house, it is their babysitter, pacifier, time occupier, and outdoors replacement. Of course no one argues that something like that could be healthy or good for a child's development. You don't need a study to know that, it's common sense.

So here is why we embrace interactive technology offered by handheld devices (not just passive screen time) and use common sense to manage it....

21st Century! Technology skills in the age we live in are an absolute necessity. There is no going back, as much as we would want to dream about carefree, technology free days. The secret is using this technology to our benefit, not detriment. While I don't think toddlers under two benefit from this technology in any way, I also don't think that brief exploration of a handheld device by a three year old with a solid 'real world' learning foundation will fry his brains. Technology is advancing at a pace we can't keep up with, I think it benefits our children to learn to use it wisely, to be flexible and adaptable to change.

Learning and Critical Thinking. While I firmly believe that the foundation of how our children learn should be real-world play, I've witnessed with my first child that after a certain age a handheld device benefits and enhances learning in addition to plenty of unstructured play and outdoor time. Could they do without it? Absolutely, people have for nearly all of time anyway! I've seen very young children daily tethered to handheld devices for their short life, you don't have to look hard to see that they are underdeveloped by the age of 3 than peers who get to play freely in the real world and receive interaction with people that aids in the formation of their brain and language skills. But for older children who have already grasped more of reality vs. make believe, who have a developed vocabulary, brief use of handheld devices actually helps with critical thinking, development, and creativity. It's a great source of inspiration beyond what we are daily surrounded with.

Pursuing Passions. Since we are homeschooling in this technologically advanced age, it allows my children and I to learn so much about subjects we are passionate about. Hey, I wouldn't be where I am today with photography if it wasn't for the learning opportunities through technology! While we don't always use a handheld device for this, sometimes we do. It may mean taking a photo of an insect with the iPod so that we can later look up what it is. It may mean watching a video about volcanoes when my daughter asks what an eruption looks like. It may mean watching a how-to video together when my 5 year old tells me she wants to learn to embroider. Sometimes it may just be my 2.5 year old watching the hayride video we filmed over and over and over again because he is a little obsessed with tractors! As they get older, this technology puts the world at their fingertips, there is no limit to what they can learn and how it can help them discover their passion in this life.

Keeping in Touch. Boy do we know this first hand. Now that daddy is temporarily away for three weeks at a time for work - handheld devices are a lifeline! It is the obvious way to keep hubby and wife, daddy and kids connected. I have no smart phone, but my iPod and regular cell phone are the primary way the kids keep in touch with dad. Not to mention we also have family and friends all over the world, technology enables us to keep connected in between the times we see each other in person. As we homeschool, I still want the kids to send snail mail and write letters for practice, I think that's important, but technology isn't going anywhere!

Unconventional Income Sources. I am a testament to the fact that technology has created ways of earning income in ways that were never possible before. It is a huge resource for entrepreneurs like myself. I run two online-only businesses from home and have never met the hundreds of contacts I've built through the internet. This enables me to stay home with our kids and still contribute to our family's income! You would think, yes, that's great for moms. But I say it's great for everyone. Because we are raising children with family values and together-time really high on the priority list, I know that as they get older and start their own families - like us they will wish they had ways to generate income and spend more time with family. Being technologically savvy will only help them in entrepreneurial endeavors.

Learning moderation. This is how children think. "I want it all and I want it now". At least my kids think this way! Giving them access to handheld devices and teaching them (hopefully by example) that it isn't always the proper time to use them, teaches them moderation. They will eventually learn that just because they can, doesn't mean they should. Just like with candy, banning it will only make it worse, they'll binge at every opportunity. They need to learn to control themselves and as parents we are here to help them do this. Does this mean that after a week of demonstrating moderation and teaching them, they will suddenly know how much is too much? No. It's an ongoing process and it's great for the parent to continue both showing and gently teaching moderation throughout their growing years. For example, it may mean there are no handheld devices allowed at meal time, when spending time together as a family, and when at the store checkout. It may mean they never witness you text or browse while you're driving, they need to know the boundaries.

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Once again, let me reiterate that common sense and leading by example are essential to healthy tech use and freedom from technological addiction! Yes, my kids see that I get a lot of work done sitting at the computer, they know what Facebook is, sort of - but it is balanced by seeing me cooking meals from scratch, taking them outdoors every day when the weather allows, spending time with family and visiting friends, traveling to photo sessions to pursue my passion of photography, and being a part of our community along with them. 

What are your views and experiences on technology and kids?


  1. I grew up without it, i was never interested playing games even when we had it in Ukraine, as i grew older there are probably few games i enjoyed on the computer but shortly after realized how time consuming and waist of time it is. I dislike all games lol, perhaps only educational games i do like. My kids of course ready to play electronics any season or time of the day, and yes its limited when im around, unfortunately when it comes to grandma, she thinks they don' t get enough so if i live them for a 3 hours they will watch or play vide games for whole 3 hours. I can definitely see the difference afterwards that is way it happens very rarely and i always feel guilty leaving my kids in situations like that.

    My 2.5 year old if she sees my phone it would be quickly in her hands looking through the videos i recorded and pictures sometimes discovering how to get into some games and she would not give that up so easily. Having younger and older kids in the house balancing electronics is a challenge and most of the time if its a movie everyone watching or if its a challenging game time toddler is going for a nap and older kids have that quiet time.
    I agree there has to be balance and control of parents when it comes to electronics.

    1. I also have no interest in computer games, but occasionally will let my 5 year old play, especially if it is 'educational'. But it's good to have limits! Otherwise they binge and it definitely impacts behavior and sleep negatively. I know, sometimes grandparents allow too much, same for sweets! I've asked my mom to not turn on cartoons for Elya when she visits her, but it would be harder with mom-in-law. My MIL thinks TV is the devil, so I'm all set with her, lol :)


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