In which Miss Molly gives her two cents, or 10 reasons why it’s not solely the tech’s fault.

I’m coming to you with a rather important update, one that is at the center of the library world at the moment: the prominence, importance, and use of digital devices in children’s lives.

There has been an article floating around the internet, which has come from the Huffington Post website, titled “10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12” by Cris Rowan. This article was published just over a week ago and already has been passed around Facebook and the internet like it’s going out of style.

This article discourages the use of handheld technology (iPads, tablets, laptops, etc) for children under 12. Let’s think about that. All technology? In today’s day and age, that is an unrealistic, misguided, and downright dangerous things opinion. Children are expected to have basic technological skills when they enter kindergarten, let alone when they get to higher education–think of the research projects and papers! And don’t get me started on the tech needed in today’s job landscape!

Completely banning something is not a way to fix the problem, only a way to exacerbate it. In a country that is already educationally behind, can we really afford to take away the potential learning opportunities that handheld devices present?

All around the country, there are libraries and librarians (public, private, and in schools ) who are using use iPads and other media and technology in storytime, in programming, and in the classroom, to great effect. This makes me think that it’s not the technology that’s the problem, but about HOW the technology is being used.

So, with that in mind, I have to throw in my 2 cents in what I hope is a sound, explanatory manner.

The statements following are, of course, my opinion. Feel free to disagree, or agree, or comment, that’s what an actual conversation is about–be it in person or through a screen. That’s what makes this issue so great!

I would love to hear your thoughts, provided they are constructive and contribute to the discussion. There is no perfect answer to this issue and this post is written with the mindset that there are two sides to every argument, and no right or wrong answer. Rowan is entitled to her opinion, as I am to mine. My points below may not always be bolstered with facts, but they are tempered with first-hand experience and a fierce love for what I do.

If you’re looking for the long and short of what I have to say, it boils down to three points:

  1. Everything in MODERATION.
    -There is a such thing as too much of a good thing. Set limits and stick to them.
  2. Technology is NOT A BABYSITTER.
    -I’m not calling anyone out on their parenting skills, far from it, but part of what this issue boils down to is whether or not the parents have the time and/or inclination to sit down and BE with the child: to read, to play, to talk.
  3. The key to successful technology use is ENGAGEMENT.
    -While there may be hundreds of technological options out there,  it still takes someone to teach children how to use technology.

_________________________________________________________________

On to the post:

1. Passive Use versus Active Engagement.

There is a difference between planting a child in front of the devices and leaving him or her there for hours at a time and using a device together. The passivity is what causes problems and what should be limited, not the device itself. This is my opinion, AND an opinion that is shared by Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis-one of the doctors who coauthored the guidelines discouraging media use by babies and toddlers: the much feared (and oft-quoted) American Academy of Pediatrics 2011 guidelines. Guidelines, I might add, that were written before the introduction of the Apple iPad, and the many other platforms that have since followed, pushing the market toward bigger, better, higher quality apps.

Parents and children should use the tech together in an engaging way, by reading together and  playing together, and should be encouraged. This ‘mommy/daddy/grandparent and me’ time builds young minds. The parent is the gatekeeper and the decoder. Young minds need that grownup frame of reference to put ideas and concepts in a way their developing brains can understand–the same is true when reading hardbound books.

2. But it says it’s “Educational.”

Just because an app or game or video (or even on some occasions, a book) says ‘educational’, that doesn’t mean that it actually is educational. Finding quality apps and media takes time; just like finding a quality book takes time. Not everything is a winner. And keep in mind that these things are, when you get down to it, businesses. They want to sell you stuff and make money, regardless of if the claims are true.

That’s what librarians and media specialists are for, among other things. We do the research to keep parents informed about technology so they don’t have to wade through the mire and quicksand to get something good.

iPads and other technology can be really great tools when used in an engaging way by both the parent and the child. At my library, and others around the country, have lists of really fantastic, active apps, and interactive storybooks which encourage language, math, creative thinking, and movement skills, as well as the 5 skills of Every Child Ready to Read (sing, talk, read, write, play). We formed these lists from extensive testing of the apps. And believe me….there some really brain-dead apps out there.

It’s an ongoing process and there are LOTS of apps out there; the key is finding the right ones for you and your child and the goals you want to accomplish.

3. Obesity is an issue for the entire country, not just children who use handheld devices.

This is really a whole other issue. (One that I feel really strongly about for a myriad of different reasons unrelated to tech.)

1 in 3 adults are obese in the United States. Eating habits are also something that children pick up from the adults around them; and, being that most children are not fixing their own food and are reliant on a parent to make good choices for them, you can see how the tech is not really the issue. The tech is not forcing food down the children’s throats.

Yes, inactivity can lead to an increase in weight, but that is why I agree that screen time should be limited and used in conjunction with, you know, an active childhood of physical activity. Another modeled behavior…

4. The device should not be used a bribe or a punishment.

This promotes a negative association with technology. The devices shouldn’t necessarily be turned off as a punishment, but rather as a part of the routine of use. By using it in combination with paper books, physical movement, and social interaction with other children, negative association shouldn’t be an issue. But if using the device is only used as a distraction or as a preventative for negative behavior, of COURSE it’s going to cause problems…Just like anything else that is used in those ways will have negative consequences (technological or not).

5.  There is no right answer to the amount of tech time.

The use of technology is a personal choice,  and what each parent views as most beneficial to his or her child is definitely what should happen. I can sit here and wax poetic about the benefits of tech in a child’s development and how it promotes learning; I can tell you not to go over an hour a day; I can give app and use suggestions until I am blue in the face, but in the end–it is the parent’s discretion that ultimately decides the use policies for his or her child.

I want families to be informed that there are beneficial ways to use technology with children which encourage learning and development, movement skills, writing skills, etc.

I love my job, and making sure that children/parents/families are as informed as possible is part of that. I want children to succeed in this digital environment–by doing the research and planning device-centered activities. Librarians are doing everything possible to keep parents informed. Use us! We can help!

6. Mental Illness

The opportunities that handheld devices have given to nonverbal children with disabilities have been wonderful. When used in a positive way, the devices have given a voice and an outlet for children to express themselves in ways they would otherwise be unable to. This goes for children without disabilities as well. I am not going to go into this very in depth because it is an entirely different post.

7. Be the parent

Concerned about content? Limit it. Know how to do that? By staying informed about what the child is doing on the device, and working with him or her. Don’t turn a blind eye and trust that the content is age appropriate. Use the settings to set the amount of time for the child to be on the device, and/or lock the screen so the child can only use the apps that are appropriate.

Even grownups have a hard time putting their devices down; think how hard it is for kids having fun! The parent needs to be the model for the children to follow (the same idea is present when it comes to physical exercise, reading habits, and eating habits.)

The key is moderation. Figure out what works for you and your family and stick with it. If that’s an hour a day, great. If it’s less, fine. Technology should be a part of any kid’s balanced life, just as running around, reading, writing, playing and talking should be.

Technology evolves every day. There is no feasible way to completely cut it out of your life, and trying to is like building a wall of sand at the beach to protect your sandcastle from high tide. The best defense is a good offense. Know what’s out there, find the best ways to use it, and have fun.

8. Professional fields

We use technology for research, for homework completion, for education. Not only that, but we live in a society where digital literacy is actually a problem; because so much information is found digitally, reverting to a screen-free age is educationally detrimental!

Not only do grades k-12 and university level require the use of technology, but jobs are increasingly relying on devices and tech as well. Searching for quality information, distributing that information to others in a responsible way, keeping track of product, etc., all rely on technology. Cutting out the groundwork that children set up by playing makes it that much harder for them to succeed in the real world.

9. Encouragement

Using handheld devices with children encourages their learning and involvement in the technological world. Tech has the ability to encourage problem solving, increase creative thinking, bring about logical thinking. They can spark creativity and encourage the next generation of movers and shakers; not to mention the coders, developers, problem solvers, and great minds of tomorrow.

And I’m not just talking about boys! Girls are not the biggest players in the tech/computer science field. The encouragement of tech use, play, and exploration can hopefully change that.

10. Stay informed!

Feeling overwhelmed by all the options out there? Don’t know where to start?  Check out The Hipmombrarian’s Post for more reasons to keep your kids technologically connected (in moderation, of course).

Stay abreast of trends and new apps by reading quality review sites that constantly review apps and give suggestions about what works and what doesn’t. I suggest The National Literacy Trust’s page for information about tech and kids. They have a host of wonderful and help links and information to get you started.

I also suggest Little Elit, Common Sense Media, and A Matter of App for reviews, information, the latest developments and to see how the tech is being educationally applied!

Also check out 10 Things Parents Should Know for cheeky reviews of tech, movies, and other fun for kids and parents.

Wishing you could read some GOOD news about kids, tech, and why kids using tech is important? Check out the boy who saved his mom by calling a friend on FaceTime, or the girl who cracked a password and saved her mom.

And don’t forget about the recent study, published by the National Literacy Trust, which found that a combination of handheld devices and paper books helps disadvantanged 3-5 year olds break into reading and promoted a higher level of success than reading paper books alone. Or this study, The virtual brain: 30 years of video-game playing and cognitive abilities by Andrew J. Latham, Lucy L.M. Patston, and Lynette J. Tippett, for some information about how playing on devices actually helps developing brains.

Want to see some of the apps my library suggests for education or just for fun? Check out our Pinterest Board. Talk to your local Children’s Librarian or Media Specialist. I bet they have a lot to say.

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