Dot., a new, animatedtelevision show about a young girl (the eponymous Dot) who uses technology to enhance both her educational experiences and recreational activities, premiered this past Saturday on NBC's preschool-oriented network, Sprout.
The show - created by Silicon Valley veteran and best-selling author, Randi Zuckerberg, and targeting children age 6 and under - launches at a time when it is desperately needed by so many parents and children. I say this not just as a columnist covering tech, but also as the father of three girls. Here are three reasons why you should encourage your younger children to watch Dot. - and why you should watch along with them:
Dot helps parents (like me - and probably like you) who are struggling with how to best integrate technology into their children's lives
Many of us moms and dads - who, of course, grew up in a world far less infused with technology than the one in which we are raising their children - struggle with how to incorporate technology into our children's lives. We want to make sure that our kids use technology to enrich their experiences. We search for ways to ensure that they are well prepared for the increasingly technology-saturated environment in which they will spend their entire lives. Yet, at the same time, we have concerns about how technology exposes children to various dangers, and want to also ensure that smartphones and tablets don't become today's equivalent of the 1990s all-day television "zombie-inducing babysitter." And, in many cases, parents don't understand enough about the current generation of rapidly-evolving technology in order to even have an appropriate dialog with their children.
Dot. shows parents many positive ways that technology can be used by young children to expand horizons and enhance activities, and helps foster discussion between parents and children about technology use. In the first episode - which I watched at Dot.'s premiere party in New York last week - Dot and a friend - armed with a tablet - go on an outdoor scavenger hunt in the woods along with Dot's father. While Dot's Dad discusses his own experiences doing a similar activity as a child a generation prior, Dot uses the tablet to both acquire knowledge faster, and to locate the required items faster, than her father imagines is possible; technology does not become a replacement for an outdoor activity - it becomes a tool to enhance Dot's childhood experience both recreationally and educationally, and serves as a catalyst to facilitate conversation between Dot and her father about technology and its impact on non-technical activities.
Dot helps children make good decisions about how to use technology
It is not just parents who are apprehensive about technology. Today's children - while comfortable with the technical devices themselves - are sometimes faced with making uncomfortable tech-related decisions that we, their parents, never had to make until we were much older. A child holding a tablet today has access to - and must select between - more new games, websites, and potential activities every day than we saw during our entire childhoods. Today's children are also exposed much earlier than we were to online hate, cyberbullying, pornography, and other age-inappropriate materials. It is imperative that children be shown by example how they can have fun with technology in a safe and positive fashion. In many cases, however, these lessons cannot be taught by parents - especially since many five-year olds are already more tech savvy than their parents. A show about a peer using technology in positive fashions - to improve learning, entertainment, and accomplishments - is a great start. (Also please note that when it comes to teenagers - as I discussed in a prior article - they generally turn to their friends when they feel uncomfortable online, not to their parents.)
Dot helps encourage girls and underrepresented minorities to expand their interest in technology
It may seem insane that anyone would want to avoid the field that literally builds the future, but girls and various ethnic minorities have been doing precisely that - with good reason. Whether on television, in movies, or through other communication venues to which they are exposed, from a young age children see the tech field being overwhelmingly dominated by white males - and they extrapolate accordingly.
Dot. helps address this issue; the characters in the show are culturally diverse, and the main protagonist is a young girl. Interestingly, Zuckerberg herself has two young sons and no daughters, but her time in Silicon Valley convinced her of the need to have a female main character - not just for young girls to see a tech-savvy person who looks "like them," but also to instill an egalitarian attitude towards the tech sector in her sons and other boys. Zuckerberg's decision should be commended - it is imperative that our society's de-facto sexist attitude that tech is predominately a man's world not be passed onto the next generation. I have written several times about how sexism and sexist behavior in the tech industry are inflicting serious harm on our society - and I will continue to write about this ill until it is corrected; I hope that my children, however, will know a world where my relevant articles will seem absurd. Dot. is one weapon in the arsenal being used to bring about that change.
While there are many organizations dedicated to encouraging older girls and women to explore technology related fields such as coding, Dot. helps cultivate that interest earlier in life - when it has more years to be explored and nurtured before a girl has to make a career decision, and before boys conceive any notion that the field is solely for males. The same holds true for minorities historically under-represented in tech - the earlier people become comfortable with the field and accustomed to the fact that it is normal for people like themselves to participate in it, the more likely that they will later enter the sector professionally.
Ultimately, Dot. should help foster and facilitate a dialog between parents and children - including pre-schoolers - and help parents overcome the anxiety that so many of us face about incorporating tech into our kids' lives. It should help encourage girls to explore their interests without artificial limitations set by archaic value systems. And it should provide worthwhile, educational entertainment for pre-schoolers.
I encourage you to watch Dot. with your children. New episodes air on Saturdays at 11 AM. You can also check out the show's website for additional Dot.-related materials.