Putting Kids First in the Technology Discussion
What defines a healthy balance of technology in our children’s lives? Often when the topic of kids and technology comes up, technology takes center stage. We sometimes become so consumed with the latest gizmo that we forget that our goal is simple – to raise healthy, well-adjusted kids. I’d like to shift from the usual technology-centric perspective and start this “kids & technology” article with that simple goal in mind: Kids First.
Defining “Healthy Kid”
All families have unique needs based on family size, socio-economic status, geography, support structure, health, etc. Despite our differences, I think certain common principles apply in most circumstances. I would hope, for example, that families generally value traits like Patience, Politeness, and Perseverance. If we include Eating right, Exercise, and Education, we can create a rough formula: “Healthy Kid” = (Patience + Politeness + Perseverance) + (Eating right + Exercise + Education), or, HK = 3P + 3E.
Family Goals and Priorities
For every age and stage, families can recognize their goals and priorities for growth and create their own “Healthy Kid” definition. Toddlers need to do a lot of walking and talking. Preschoolers need to respect the classroom so they can get ready for kindergarten. Elementary school children need to focus on reading, writing, and arithmetic. Middle schoolers need enough self confidence to make it through the day.
On an average day, if you only get to 1P + 2E, but your “P” aligns with the Patience your preschooler needs, and your “E” aligns with the Exercise and Education your 2nd grader needs, maybe you’re doing okay.
Here is where technology comes into the equation….
What happens if a “P-or-E” moment is missed by using technology? I’m thinking of the times, for example, when I’ve handed my child an iPhone in the grocery store as opposed to working with them patiently (P) on putting the items in the basket. Or when I’ve been tempted to pull out the iPad during a sibling sporting event, rather than engage my child in a game of hide & seek to keep them moving (E).
Is Technology Supporting Your Family’s Goals?
Computers, televisions, smartphones, iPads, and digital devices of all shapes and sizes are within arm’s reach for many families in modern society. How does this accessible, interconnected world change a family’s daily life?
To answer this, we need to think about the direct relationship between digital media in the home and HOW it supports or undermines a family’s goals and priorities. In other words, how does media relate to your version of HK = 3E + 3P?
Make a Media Plan
If we establish a set of family rules pertaining to media, then we could make those daily “grocery store” decisions with more confidence. If a family’s goal is to brush up on math skills, and the iPhone game is a math app – cool! If a family’s goal is to work on patience for kindergarten readiness, and the iPhone comes out consistently every time the child starts to whine – well, maybe we should think further about the appropriate context for use. What’s YOUR family’s formula? Knowing your goals, and having a plan to support those goals, can help us understand the ideal times and uses for technology.
From Common Sense to Creativity
Ideally we want media to bring us together, and not isolate us. Our common sense tells us when something is out of balance. With more families thinking consciously about how and why they use digital media, then hopefully the kids & technology “debate” will blow over.
The mobile industry is unveiling an amazing set of tools for all ages – at a very rapid pace. Once we catch our breath and find our balance, the creative potential of these tools could be an awesome enhancement to learning and family life.
Lorraine Akemann is Editor at Moms With Apps, a collaborative group of family-friendly app developers. The Moms With Apps “App Catalog” aims to help parents navigate technology by categorizing apps by educational category. This mobile app catalog is free to download on the iTunes App Store.