“…they were born in another time.”

I was led to this interesting blog post that was asking for some thoughts based on a letter that was sent by a parent discussing “technology and childhood”.  Here is the email that was shared:

“I am a parent of two boys aged nine and six. One of the ongoing concerns within our family is technology and electronic devices. How do we safely allow technology to be a part of their, and our lives, and still let our children experience childhood? Does technology work in unison with childhood? Is technology so engulfed within our current society that we are required to partake whether we like it or not?  I seem to be having an increasing number of conversations with other parents about technology and its implications on our, and in particular, our childrens’ lives. There seems to be varying opinions on how to approach it, how to utilise it and how to discipline it, especially in regards to social use and educational purposes.  If you feel you have views to express in regards to this topic, then please use this as an oppurtunity for your experiences and ideas to be heard.  My aim is to publish a complete text which will include shared stories from parents and teachers in relation to “Technology and Childhood”. I think by documenting families approaches we can not only learn from each other, guide and help eachother, but also record the current role that technology has in our childrens’ lives. Our young generations are going to be such a significant part of this country’s history. To a great extent they are “guinea pigs” to the social, physical and developmental outcomes of technology usage from a young age. 

So what is your approach?  

Since I wrote a long comment in response, I thought that I would share my thoughts on my blog as well.  Below is what I shared:

Great questions here and I am going to jump in with a few thoughts.

1. Here is an interesting statement that grabbed my attention right away:
“How do we safely allow technology to be a part of their, and our lives, and still let our children experience childhood?”

I guess what I would ask right away is what have we determined as the notion of “childhood”? It is how we grew up or how kids are growing up now? If a kid played a board game would we better with that then a computer game? Both can be social but in a different way. If kids are reading, does it really matter if it is on an iPad or a paper book? We grew up with books and that was a new technology at some point that probably people were uncomfortable with. I think that when many see a kid using a digital device outside during recess, they are appalled, but when they see a kid reading a book, we commend them. In both situations there is good and bad and conversations that should happen with balance.

2. Imagination is extremely important but what happens when we can bring imagination to life? When I was a kid, playing with GI Joe figures was an awesome activity for me and I would act out scenes forever yet those scenes were only in my mind. What if I could actually create something on a computer that would allow others to recreate those scenes? Drawing my ideas was seen as great for brain development, so where does creating something on a computer fit into this? Imagination is fantastic but we have to also think about how we can give kids a creative outlet.

3. I think that this comment can be altered a touch:

“Our young generations are going to be such a significant part of this country’s history. “

The reality is that this generation is important to the ‘future’ of the country which should look different and grow from our past. The idea that kids are “guinea pigs” can be said for so many generations with different technologies, whether it it books, film, automobiles, telephones, or televisions. Do we grow up in an environment where there was no change or do society’s just continue to change, progress and evolve? I actually grew up with a computer that I would spend a ton of time on as a child. That definitely had an impact on my development, but I think that it gave me the opportunity to create in a way that others before couldn’t. Was it negative? Probably some things were negative and some were positive, but with every advance in society, we give some things up where we also gain. That leads me into my last thoughts on balance.

4. Balance is extremely important in this debate about what our kids are doing now. Ironically, I am writing this while watching the olympics which is a celebration of children that probably grew up with a gigantic lack of balance in their lives to be what many would consider to be successful. Is balance what we are aiming for or is it happiness, or is it both? I love this post by Will Richardson where he discusses the balance debate:

“…the reality is that most of those folks who are concerned about kids needing balance are out of balance themselves, just in the opposite way. They’re not online enough, not reading, writing, participating, connecting and creating in these spaces as much as they need to be to fully understand the implications of these technologies for their own learning and for the kids in their classrooms. Lately, when I’ve been responding to people about the “balance” question, I go with “well, actually, you’re out of balance too, you know.” Richardson

If we are really looking out for our kids, what experiences have we learned from using technology ourselves to help guide them through this unchartered territory. As someone who is an advocate for the use of technology in schools, I also am an advocate for exercise, connecting face-to-face, and trying different things. It is not that I am against the use of pencil, but I am against the lack of opportunity to have some meaningful opportunities to use technology in the classroom as well. We need to give kids Option A and B, not just provide one or the other.

The idea of “balance” is important so as Richardson discusses, let’s figure out how we can model this balance by embedding the effective use of technology in our lives while also learning to put it away when we should. By being able to model and understand both, we are more likely to seem credible in the discussions with our children.

With all of this being said, I believe that parents are doing their best to provide a life for their children that was better their own. I commend parents for asking these types of questions as these conversations are so important to improving the opportunities for our students in a safe way. In this whole discussion, this quote always sticks out to me:

“Do not confine your children to your own learning for they were born in another time.”

Thank you for the conversation!

These conversations are so important to our communities and obviously I am a big advocate for schools moving forward from when we went.  I love the below picture which really shows how kids have moved away from how we are as children:

What are your thoughts on this topic? I encourage you to share your thoughts here or on the original blog post.  These are such great conversations that we should be having with our school communities.

  • scotwright

    It is really a simple (yet some of us make it complex) issue. They way I grew up was vastly different than how my parents grew up. They way my parents grew up was vastly different than their parents. My kids are growing up in a society that is different from mine as I grew up. This is reality; however, some people don't want to accept reality. But they should!

  • http://clintlalonde.net Clint Lalonde

    There is a lot of subtext and underlying assumptions in the questions posed by the author.

    “How do we safely allow technology to be a part of their, and our lives, and still let our children experience childhood?”

    It is interesting how this question is posed as a false dichotomy, as if the 2 positions are mutually exclusive. Our children cannot experience childhood without technology is a blunt, black/white either/or position that ignores the granularity of the issue, which is actually not a single issue but a multitude of issues many of which have nothing to do with technology.

    "Does technology work in unison with children?" As you put so well, being a child has always meant interacting with technology in order to learn how to manipulate and shape our environments. A GI Joe is just as much a technology as is a Wii. Is creating a drawing using crayons any more a creative act than creating a drawing on a tablet? I don't think so, but it is a different act.

    I always liked this Piaget quote, "The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done." In order to achieve this, children have to be able to learn to operate in their environments, not ours. And that is a scary thing for many parents to do because, unless we participate in it, we probably don't understand it.

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  • http://www.dalecope.com Dale Cope

    Thank you for the thoughtful comments. The author of the letter raises a valid and possibly widely held concern. I have written some thoughts for it on my blog: http://dalecope.edublogs.org/2012/08/06/lesson-12

  • http://www.beyondteched.com Ernie

    Put simply, the world is quickly changing from a "have" vs. " have not" to a "know" vs. "know not" environment. Students need to "know".

  • anonymous

    Technology is great! And at the same time there are many things that can be overstimulating to a child's developing mind. It is hard to find a safe balance. When my some is given "screen time" he becomes defiant and violent. He has also been exposed to something I wish I would have prevented… We have allowed him to use our smart phones to watch bmx videos on YouTube with our supervision. My husband was putting the baby down for his nap when my 6 yr old got on my husbands phone. He likes to use the Mic to search for videos on YouTube and has a slight speach impediment, so when he said bmx videos it thought he said sex videos. My husband came back from putting the baby down, to find our 6 yr old watching sex videos! We now have codes and locks on our phones, but you have to be careful, you can't just let kids use technology without supervision! There is way too many disturbing things easily available.

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  • http://www.bellevue.edu/ways-to-learn/online-learning.aspx Mary Madsen

    I think technology is great, but certainly a challenge for parents with young children these days. We use a program called Safe Eyes on our family computer. It does a pretty good job of filtering out most of the offensive material and doesn't even allow certain searches to be run. You can also specifically block out certain sites if you choose. It doesn't resolve all online concerns and problems, but it certainly helps!

  • Justin Staub, Ed.D.

    My wife and I talk about this a lot. As a teacher I know my three sons (5, 3, & 1) will be connected to technology for most of their lives, 24/7. The balance you refer to is very important. Spending real face time with real people might be so rare in the next generation that one's ability to socialize might be a huge asset.

    I also agree that Will Richardson, who visited my school this spring, is right. Balance in 2012 is different than balance in 1962. But, we need to continually stay focused on our kids. They will tell us what they need. Websites and blog posts will not. The only way you can attend to the needs of people is by being with them. Yes, technology can help bridge that gap, but not all the time.

    We are in unpredicted times. I feel public education is out of balance, in the way Richardson suggests. I also fear what happens if we ignore our better judgement and heedlessly adopt all new technology without concern for our children. As an educational leader, and a father, this is the balance I spend time trying to fix.

    @MrStaubSTEM