Opinion: How Will Technology Change Our Kids?
Filed under: Opinions
A recent essay by Brad Stone in The New York Times ("The Children of Cyberspace: Old Fogies by Their 20s") discusses some of the ways that technology will affect children who are growing up in the digital age. Instead of tackling the subject negatively, the piece looks at technology as a fact of life. Cell phones, the Web, computers, electronic book readers -- these are all things that our kids will have in their lives, whether they -- or we -- want them or not.
In other words, the question is no longer "is technology good for kids?" but rather "how do we deal with it?"
In 20 years, or perhaps sooner, debates over whether or not children should be watching television could seem as dated as the teletype (or a fax machine). Screens will be impossible to avoid. At the recent CES (Consumer Electronics Show), the big product category was e-readers. The makers of these devices are hoping that screens will soon replace newspapers and magazines the way that Amazon's Kindle has replaced books for some early adopters. And while it is certainly true that not everyone has ditched paperbacks for a Kindle or an iPhone, kids who grow up with these devices will probably think that a screen is the same as a book.
Discussing how new technologies will affect children is further complicated by the fact that generational differences aren't what they used to be. The Times quotes Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center as saying that, "People two, three or four years apart are having completely different experiences with technology." Consider this: if you were born in the 1970's, you remember a world without push-button phones. If you were born in the 1980's, you remember a world without the Internet. If you were born in the 1990's, you knew the world before everyone had a cell phone (what some of us refer to as "the good old days.")
Now let's stop going by decades and go just a few years at a time. A child born in the year 2000 knew a time when only businesspeople had BlackBerrys. A child born in the year 2002 knew a world before Facebook, Twitter and Skype. And a child born today will know a world in which everyone is constantly connected, privacy means not allowing anyone except your Facebook friends to see your personal photos, and the preferred method of quick communication is a text message.
A child born five years from now? Who knows what the world will be like by then.
As parents, we need to move past the argument about whether or not all of this technology is a good thing or a bad thing and accept that it is happening. At some point, parents who don't let their children watch television or use a computer will be putting those kids at a disadvantage. More and more aspects of life will become digitized, and anyone who refuses to do their banking online because they don't trust the process will find themselves keeping their money under a mattress.
In the Times, Stone writes, "My daughter's worldview and life will be shaped in very deliberate ways by technologies like the Kindle and the new magical high-tech gadgets coming out this year ... She'll see the world a lot differently from her parents." That's true in a way. But we can still teach our kids the values that we believe are important. Technology is first and foremost a tool. Just because your child can do a Skype video chat with your friend who lives across town doesn't mean that, as parents, we shouldn't encourage them to interact with that person IRL -- in real life.
No matter how many hours a day our children end up spending in front of a screen, our job as parents remains the same. Talk to them. Teach them right from wrong. Maybe in return they can teach you how to download books to your new e-reader.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.