According to the book Growing Up Wired by Lee-Chua, et al., parents of today are called digital immigrants while our children are digital natives. They have never known a world without the Internet.
I have heard parents complain about their children’s short attention span and lack of social skills because of their preference for gadgets. For me, these five points have made it easier to for me and my child to know our boundaries regarding gadget use.
TEACH. Teach your child that gadgets are merely tools. The advantage of having internet access is that you can retrieve information in just a click of a button. As a therapist and a mom, I use images and videos to unlock new vocabulary. When my two-year-old son asked about the sound he heard while it was raining, I searched for YouTube videos on thunder and lightning. Since he is still young, we make sure that adult supervision is given 100% of the time. We watch with him so we can talk about Baby Bus videos and sing Dave and Ava songs together.
MODEL. As parents, we cannot expect our kids to limit the use of gadgets when we ourselves are glued to them. Research has shown the benefit of introducing picture books to children early in life. It is easier for children to exhibit emerging literacy skills when they are exposed to parents who also read with them. We also have to expose them to varied types of texts. Needless to say, we actually have to buy books for our kids, we have to provide a print-rich environment if we want to have young readers at home.
REGULATE. Just like any other activity, regulation is key. We cannot allow our kids to stay online just because it gives us the peace and quiet we long for in the household. Make sure your young children develop their communication and social skills through constant interaction with people. Ample studies have supported the importance of play. According to a recent study, “the important thing is not just talk to your child, but to talk with your child”. In the study, cognitive scientists from the MIT McGovern Institute for Brain Research linked interactive dialogue (versus just exposure to words) to improved language skills in children.
PRIORITIES. A lot of parenting websites have already shared developmental milestones so parents can monitor their children’s performance. Priorities change as the child grows older. I have met parents who were successful in implementing gadget-free weekdays to prioritize homework and family bonding time at night.
OPPORTUNITIES. Provide choices as alternative to games and time for gadget. We cannot expect our kids to just turn off their gadgets without providing alternative activities. We cannot expect them to stop and reflect. Provide a schedule for sports or any outdoor activity, reading time, pretend play, and simple board games.
Technology will always offer something new, its novelty has always attracted children. It is then up to us, the significant adults in their lives, to teach them the importance of filtering important information, identifying good sources of data and being in control of one’s time. After all, thinking critically, making judgments and making innovative use of knowledge, information and opportunities are part of the 21st century skills that they are expected to learn.
In sum, my dear parents, we cannot expect the mastery of skills that we did not teach.