There is a lot of room on the Web for distractions, and kids are prone to it more than ever. Studies show that elevated Web usage among children can cause obesity and typically leads to feelings of apathy, impacting a child’s social development. The occasional game here or there is fine–and kids will need to use computers in school–but keeping them grounded in the real world is a crucial aspect of child development.
The way kids interact with computers is the subject of much study and debate. We recognize that kids will need computers into the future, but parents have to push back to try and get kids off the phone or the tablet or the game system.
Grounding kids in reality isn’t as difficult as it sounds, but it begins with understanding how they interact with computers.
Technology has Become Part of a Social Experience
In a recent study, MIT concluded that kids and young adults use social sites to maintain personal connections with one another, usually connections that would not otherwise be possible. Consider what would happen if you left Facebook for 30 days, and then called someone. How much would the two of you have to discuss? That should help provide some understanding of how integrated kids are with technology. Without it, the world can seem devoid of human contact.
If we consider Amazon’s sharing feature, we begin to see the Web as the new mall of the world. A place where you can hang with friends on Google Hangouts, watch movies together on Netflix, shop together on Amazon and share your experiences on Facebook without leaving the house. Kids don’t have the option to just drive anywhere they want, and curfew laws keep them indoors sooner than most of us when we were young.
Technology Has Value in the Real World
There are all kinds of ways that technology can impact a real world experience, enhancing it and providing more information. Augmented reality applications like Layar utilize phone cameras to tell us more about what we are looking at. Students use applications like the Meridian PRIME e-planner to track their progress on assignments. Even museums have a guided tour presented on some device (usually an iPod, RIP), consisting of informative voice overs from curators and scientists.
Starting the Dialogue
Technology isn’t going away, and as kids age you’ll likely find it harder to keep a close eye on their activities. Start the dialogue now while they are young and work to instill an appreciation of nature and life. One of the first areas to cover is Internet safety. Kids have a tendency to share passwords with friends as a sign of trust, but this can become dangerous if friendships end.
Cyber bullying is very real, and has real psychological consequences. Kids may find themselves full of anxiety at the prospect of playing games online, all because of anonymous threats.
You may find it helpful to limit their screen time. Firm discipline can often do the trick here, but some parents find it easier and less confrontational to use software that monitors time for you. Provide kids enough time to play games and unwind, but make sure they have plenty of real world things to do around the house. This part is easy and fun, and you can combine technology too.
One great activity is to purchase a Raspberry Pi for the home. This small device costs less than $100 for all necessary parts, and you can build just about anything with it. Robots, applications, even an arcade machine.
Technology doesn’t have to be a parent’s enemy, nor is it a child’s escape. With discipline on the part of both parties, it can be something that enriches the real world.