Balance in our Digital World

Tech It Easy Graphic with Stats (2)
Infographic from The Steward School

Recently, I attended a lecture called, “Helping Children Create Balance in a Digital World” at The Steward School. The evening began with an icebreaker about the statistic in this Infographic,  “40% of iPhone users would give up their toothbrush for a week before their phone.” After a tongue-in-cheek promise not to poll the audience on their preferences regarding toothbrushes vs. iPhones, the evening got underway with several mini-keynote sessions.

A world-renowned panel of experts presented and/or discussed this important topic about technology:

  • Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.
  • Paul Andersen, a science teacher who has been named a YouTube EDU Guru, the 2011 Montana Teacher of the Year, and a finalist for 2011 National Teacher of the Year.
  • Jonathan Becker, the director of online academic programs in the Office of Online Education at Virginia Commonwealth University.
  • Prescott Nichols is a senior director at Capital One, where he leads the recruiting, infrastructure operations, selection, and strategy analysis teams.
  • Sonali Shetty served as the moderator, and is the co-founder and CEO of Hodges Digital, an innovative agency specializing in digital strategy, web and social apps, and data analytics.

I anticipated that the evening would be a full plate of do’s and don’ts and the ubiquitous “Do not expose children to screen time for more than ____ hours daily”.  Unexpectedly, the evening was more of an empowering discussion than a rulebook — for parents and educators alike. (But in case you are interested in the current guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), please see resources at the end of this article).

Here were the top five “take home points” I took from the evening:

  1. Every child’s experience with technology is different.
  2. Parents should decide what is appropriate for his or her child and their family.
  3. Families and schools should collaborate and work together.
  4. Children problem solve differently today than just a few years ago due to the abundance of technology.
  5. Children take their cues from adults using technology.

The most important strategy that participants left with, was that as parents, as teachers, as a community, we should feel empowered to make our own choices that are right for our children and our families. In addition, some food for thought to make an informed decision includes considering:

  • What makes for a good childhood?
  • What memories of growing up do you want your kids to recall?
  • What is your child’s capacity for solitude? How do children entertain themselves without technology?
  • Has technology affected how your family interacts? (Consider this – years ago for family game night, we might have all been huddled around a board game. Nowadays, we are more likely to be playing games in the same room, each on our own mobile devices)
  • However technology influences your family, have a consistent routine for the other things your child needs to do in life (e.g., face-to-face interaction, exercise, homework before gaming, etc.).
  • For more “food for thought” consider this powerful interview with Catherine Steiner-Adair about “Are we using technology to be our best selves?”

Allison Slater Tate,  in her popular article in The Washington Post, (here is the link to the full article,) writes:

“We can try as hard as we want to push back and to carve space into our children’s lives for treehouses and puzzles and Waldorf-style dolls, but in the end, our children will grow up with the whole world at their fingertips, courtesy of a touch screen, and they will have to learn how to find the balance between their cyber and real worlds. It is scary. I don’t think I even believe there is a “right way” to parent with technology. But acknowledging that what we are doing is unprecedented – that no study yet knows exactly what this iChildhood will look like when our children are full grown people – feels like an exhale of sorts.”

So when was the last time you saw your toothbrush? Just kidding. What are your thoughts about technology and its impact on you and your family?  How have you seen technology influence your children so far?

For additional information, please refer to these resources about children and technology:

APA Resource Guide on Media Use and Children

Media Statement for Babies and Toddlers

Media Education: Positive Media

Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-year olds