Remember that PSA, with the egg and the frying pan? It was quite effective back in its heyday. Some professionals argue that children’s increasing exposure to digital media has the same effect. “The EPA confirms that computer screens emit low levels of x-ray radiation. While there is no evidence that this radiation results in health problems.”
This week we read an article illustrating that arguments for children’s use of emerging media tools can go both ways. “Technology experts and stakeholders were fairly evenly split as to whether the younger generation’s always-on connection to people and information will turn out to be a net positive or a net negative by 2020.” However, I’m an advocate for their use and I even have personal experience from both schools of thought to back it up!! (Along with lots of references too, of course).
I have two boys under the age of three and also a 16-year-old stepdaughter so I have seen digital media usage from two separate perspectives and how it is used by various age groups. Starting with my young boys, one is way too young to even hold a tablet much less navigate one, but my older boy, who is almost three, is a thriving tablet user. I must admit that I do use the tablet as entertainment for him while I’m in the midst of cooking, cleaning, doing laundry or tending to the baby. (Ok, ok, I may also sit him in front of the TV or the tablet when I just need a mommy moment….sue me). However, I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. Many parents choose to use media as a way to occupy their children, even those who are very young, while they engage in household tasks. Media use by preschool and school-age children is not necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t have to be mindless, either.
My almost three-year-old can draw his letters, categorize items of similar color and shape and put relatively difficult puzzles together. He also can apparently order and download an entire season of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, but that’s another story. His exposure to the Information Age is a glorious gift. He’s already learning skills he may not have been exposed to until pre-school and when he gets older; access to the Internet and other digital technologies will provide him with endless opportunities to learn about anything he chooses.
In addition, the interactivity of these mediums open up another world of options for hands-on learning. Tablets and other touch screen devices are geared towards interactivity, unlike television and print, and unlike computers multi-touch features of tablets allow objects to be manipulated on screen unlike in the past. 3-D models of the solar system, for instance, allow children to more readily understand the relationship between planets.
Now, our 16-year-old is a social media/digital media/emerging media (whatever you want to call it) professional. She knows more about SnapChat, Reddit, Twitter, you name it, than I will probably ever know and she can simultaneously Skype with her cousin, while playing online video games, while updating her Twitter account……and she probably stopped for a selfie somewhere in there too. I must admit, I’ve been surprised with the amount of information that her friends will post online to essentially an entire world full of strangers. Now, there’s a strict rule in our house that if she has a social media account, it must be private and she must be friends with or followed by a parent. So, we don’t necessarily run into the issue of her “over-sharing,” although I imagine that’s because she’s aware we are looking at her accounts.
Still, I have often times been worried that all that exposure to all things digital has made her less engaged in school work or socializing with friends. So imagine my surprise when I noticed the other day that a fellow Twitter friend of hers sent a homework-related question out into the Twitter-sphere and my step-daughter, not only had a recommendation, but had a darn, good recommendation for this student. Low and behold, among the monotonous, daily updates and insignificant chatter, some teens are actually using this medium to connect with other teens and collaborate on school work. I was actually quite proud!!
That being said, there is obviously a balance between the use of digital mediums and other rich learning experiences. However, maybe we shouldn’t be focusing so much on how much time our kids are spend consuming these media and instead focus on the quality of those media experiences and how they might affect children’s development and learning. The challenge going forward is in establishing new models for using technology in effective, developmentally appropriate ways.
For those of you that have children, do you think their use of emerging media tools has helped or hurt their learning experiences?