Worldwide, 8 in 10 births are to "Digital Natives" (aka Millennials). As more and more of the next generation of tech-savvy entrepreneurs and leaders (most recent and notably, Mark Zuckerberg) begin to have kids, the question becomes not "if" but "when" should kids be introduced to technology.
The entire world seems divided on the topic. A new global survey found that, 53 percent of people agree that "digital technology and the Internet are ruining childhood," and yet 52 percent also said that kids growing up without [Internet] access are at a notable disadvantage.
What's a parent to do?
There seems to be some consensus behind the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that media should be avoided for infants and children under age two. They emphasise that a "child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens."
Children under two years of age develop cognitive, social, and language skills best in the real world. But for kids younger than eight years old, it's the wild west. Many researchers believe it's still too early to draw conclusions on any fundamental changes to children's cognition as a consequence of technology.
However, what is clear is that technology is a potent change agent that is not only changing what we do but who we are (regardless of age).
Today's parents find themselves with three options when it comes to kids' technology use.
Steve Jobs didn't let his kids use iPads. Other tech executive parents from Silicon Valley have decided to shield their kids from technology, sending their kids to anti-computer and screen-banning schools like Waldorf School.
Technology is a new staple in the fabric of life. Recreating a tech-free childhood of past generations is impossible in a world where there are more active mobile devices than people. For a generation who will be using technology for the rest of their lives to interact with classmates, friends, family, and eventually co-workers, banning technology isn't a realistic nor a productive long-term solution.
New York Times Best Selling Author, investor, and entrepreneur, Gary Vaynerchuck, has a strong stance for his children's technology use, "I'm not restricting hours of a second or third screen for my children because I think it's actually prepping them for the world that's actually going to exist. Kids who are restricted to one hour [of screen-time] a day will over value technology."
As a new Millennial parent myself, my emotional reaction (shared by millions of others) to this Nature Valley commercial signifies the raw power in disconnecting from a connected world in order to reconnect with one's true self. Research has found that time outdoors, especially interacting with nature, can enhance mood, restore attention, lower stress, and reduce aggression. All-in on technology isn't an ideal option either.
The former editor-in-chief of Wired and now CEO of 3D Robotics, Chris Anderson, is a father of five who institutes time limits and parental controls on every device in their home. Understanding the power and capacity of technology while appreciating the dangers and pitfalls is the sweet spot for today's parents. Balance is best.
Today's best entrepreneurs, leaders, and parents are double threats. They leverage technology for enhanced learning, productivity, and influence while maintaining strong offline communication skills in order to listen, collaborate, and inspire.
A healthy diet of online and offline activity is critical in establishing the necessary credibility and capability to parent in a hyper-connected world.
Beyond the age of two, I don't think it matters how young your kids are when you introduce them to technology, besides, how can you ignore it when STEM toys like Fisher Price's Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar steal the show at CES 2016.
Rather what matters is how involved you are as a parent in guiding their use of technology. You'll be better equipped to monitor and influence your children's technology use if you can master the use of technology for yourself.
Kids aren't going to self-monitor or adjust their technology behavior because they are worried about how it may hinder their future ability to empathize. We must move beyond the, "Do as I say, not as I do." parenting style, and do find a balance with technology of our own.
It's time that the tech-decedent Millennial parent model healthy high-tech and high-touch behavior so the next generation can stand on our shoulders instead of peeking around a screen.