Technology and raising a socially responsible child are totally and irrevocably connected today. This starts with the toddler who is exposed to technology that if not monitored and controlled by a parent, can replace human interaction. It would be difficult to argue that this is a good thing.
Human interaction, those skills that are developed early in life, are invaluable in the child’s growth and readiness to enter the school system and succeed. However, understanding and using technology is also invaluable in the child’s growth and readiness to succeed in school. So, what is the balance? How should technology be used with a young child?
There are few parents of past generations who at some point did not use the television set as a “babysitter.” With the advent of Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, there were some excellent shows on television that moved past “babysitting” and into early education. Almost 50 years ago, my youngest brother discovered the delightful Cookie Monster, who while teaching various preschool skills, would also trade anything for a cookie. And I will never forget Dr. Sally Ride, in an orange NASA jumpsuit, introduced on Sesame Street as the “world’s expert at counting backwards!” “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, Blastoff!” This was and continues to be great stuff.
It was fairly easy for my mother to control what we were watching on television. Most families had one television, in a family room. Eventually, I had a small television in my bedroom, but my mother had a trust that I would use this appropriately, and honestly with only four channels, there wasn’t a lot of trouble I could get into. Star Trek, Lost in Space – she knew what I was watching, was horrified, and positive I would scare away potential boyfriends or husbands with my infatuation with sci-fi. (I married a NASA scientist.)
So fast forward to today, where there are hundreds of television channels available, many on portable devices. There are social media pages and apps for everything. Books, games, etc. How do you even begin to control this? To limit or deny exposure impacts a child’s ability to navigate technology, a skill that is expected with incoming kindergartners.
This access to technology started to explode while I was raising children. You monitored what you could, definitely limited the amount of time kids spent “on-line,” and also assigned some responsibility to your child, based on what was age appropriate.
There really is not a hard a fast rule that applies to how much time children should be allowed to be “on-line.” This varies by family and is also situational. Like everything else as a parent, monitor and begin to teach responsibility.
One thing you don’t want to do as a parent is to back yourself into a corner with rules and regulations, and then have to back-peddle later. For example, on long drives and plane rides technology is invaluable. I don’t know of an adult who hasn’t made a long trip more bearable by reading or watching a movie. You don’t want to have a one-hour limit on technology in place, and then change that every time a new situation pops up. And you don’t want to go on a long car ride or plane ride with a whining two-year-old when you can make the trip so much more pleasant with technology.
There is nothing wrong with starting to teach children that there is a constant evaluation going on about when and where the use of technology is appropriate. Model your thought process out loud, and begin to teach them to make these judgment calls themselves. The bottom line however, is that when you say put it away, it is put away. And remember, you are constantly modeling this behavior yourself.