The Case for Toddlers and Tech
I am well aware of the studies. No TV for kids under 2. Kids who watch too much TV perform worse academically. Kids who get too much screen time are less imaginative. Kids who watch too much TV exhibit poor judgement. Kids who watch too much TV are worse readers. [1, 2, 3, 4]
How does this apply to current technology – specifically, tablets?
With my first son — for the first 10 months or so — I was crazy about the no-tv thing. I would actually physically turn him away from a screen if it was on. I cringed when someone on fb alluded to the idea that they let their kids watch something on TV, thinking “Don’t they know better?”. You know how it is – first baby … trying to create a perfect being … not realizing that it’s a long distance race, and not a sprint. But our first baby was a little tricky … and he definitely caught us flat-footed. When preparing for our first trans-Atlantic flight as a family — we started to panic. And we decided that Sesame Street music videos were the answer. So we bought a tablet. And hence the slippery slope into toddler tablet time.
We all agree that outside time is important. And that free, creative, unstructured play time is important. It is important for both kids and for their parent’s sanity. And tons of TV time isn’t great. It does seem to create as many problems (temper tantrums … hints of addiction) as it solves (getting kids to sit still long enough for you to order the chaos that is your house without them undoing all of your good work). The question in my mind is: Does tablet time count as TV time? I would say, yes partially, it does. Depending on the usage. I have to argue, though — that there is nothing wrong with some tech time. This is the world that we live in. We all spend tons of time online. Tech pioneers of previous generations got a jump on the competition because as kids, they were nerds (and usually boy nerds). They spent a lot of time on computers and figured out how to make them do things. Then with those skills they went on to envision and build amazing things. An where does that learning start? It starts — for this generation, anyway … with them messing about on a tablet.
The people who are in tech — who develop software, who are coding, who are engineers — are building the future. That’s all there is to it. You know who is going to decide what your house looks like in 10 years? The guys from Nest (www.nest.com). They’re the guys who are revolutionizing the thermostat and smoke/carbon monoxide detectors. In 4 years they built a company that Google has just bought for 3.2 billion (yes, that is a “B”) dollars. Yes, they did have tech backgrounds already … but it’s still a pretty crazy trajectory. They will be the people who get to decide what your house (and mine) will look like in the next decade, because they’re deep enough into the tech world to understand what is possible next. And then they’ll build it.
Neil Fraser, a software engineer at Google, posted an interesting blog piece (https://neil.fraser.name/news/2013/03/16/) about computer science education in Vietnam, written after his travels there. Computer classes there start in grade 2, he says. By grade 4 they are programming. Grade 5 students in Vietnam perform at the same level as grade 11 American students, he claims. Half of the students in the Grade 11 class could pass the Google interview process, he deems.
And where are we? As far as I can tell, we’re not teaching computer science until middle school at best. And it’s not required.
There are many pushes to make the Western world more computer literate. The code.org initiative implores people to get started (code.org). Khan academy has some awesome interactive tutorials – they’re like games, really (try this: https://www.khanacademy.org/cs/programming/drawing-basics/p/intro-to-drawing). Lightbot is a great App for kids (http://light-bot.com) (and adults actually, my husband was quite hooked for a time).
Programming is actually very enjoyable. It can be quite a fun puzzle. And quite enthralling. And I would argue that all of it starts with helping your kids learn to get around a tablet. To get to the home screen. To go back a page. To understand the concept of search. Sure — you don’t want them to spend all their time consuming media. Fine. But you do want them to know their way around a computer. The more intimately, the better.
Because this is how the future is being built. And if you can’t code to some degree — you won’t get to play.
Tomorrow I’ll expand a little more about tech resources for kids.
1. Healy JM. Understanding TV’s effects on the developing brain. Reprinted from AAP News, May 1998.
2. A. Parkes, H. Sweeting, D. Wight, M. Henderson. Do television and electronic games predict children’s psychosocial adjustment? Longitudinal research using the UK Millennium Cohort Study. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 2013; DOI: 10.1136/archdischild-2011-301508
3. American Academy of Pediatrics: AAP policy statement: Children Adolescents, and Television (RE0043), February 2001;107:2 (423-426) www.aap.org/policy/re0043.html
4. Moore, Tom. Press Release: University of Iowa children’s health specialists focus on early brain development. 11.30.02 www.uiowa.edu/~ournews/2002/september/0930child-health.html