Nobody's going to argue that children don't need screen-free playtime. And with the internet, as with any tool, comes danger (and that goes for all ages), so acting with caution ought to be a given. But it's hard to have a conversation about kids and technology that doesn't summon up undertones of shame and guilt, and maybe that's the real shame.
First, we need to remember that children are biologically primed to learn. Most adults would need a lot of time and some serious motivation to learn more than basic coding, for example. Our children, on the other hand, can pick up advanced skills quickly and easily.
There's a more important point to be made, though, in my opinion. Not only is learning tech-related skills easy for children, I'd go so far as to say that it's necessary.
4 reasons for allowing your kids to embrace the digital:
- Technology is the future. If the human race is going to beat climate change, failing bio-diversity, and the host of other problems it faces globally, technology is going to be an integral part of that process. The sooner younger generations become sufficient in these digital tools, the faster they will be able to leverage them into impactful change.
- It's getting harder and harder to live unplugged. Everything from interacting with family to getting help in an emergency is now constantly being done on smartphones and tablets. Keeping your kids away from these devices isn't helping them, it's delaying what they inevitably will need to learn, and possibly adapt, in a pressing situation.
- Automation is cutting swaths of jobs from the service industry. Meanwhile, the tech field is booming with job opportunities, and there's a greater need than ever for people who can design, program, and maintain machines. These are the jobs that will be waiting for your child -- how grateful will they be to you for giving them a head start?
- Asking what your child what he or she 'wants to be when they grow up' returns a vastly different answer today, then it did 15-20 years ago. Sure, you may hear the occasional astronaut or doctor, but new answers are emerging (and trending) such as a YouTube content creator, Instagram influencer, or even a professional e-gamer (make no mistake, all are exceptionally lucrative). If those professions are truly your child's 'dream job', isn't it your duty as a parent to empower them with the right digital tools that will educate and inform them?
One thing needs to be noted: saying that kids -- even young ones -- can actually benefit strongly from spending time with technology is not the same thing as suggesting they be parked in front of a television all afternoon, or be allowed to roam the internet without supervision. I'm an advocate of limiting & enforcing screen time -- which is critical for balanced growth.
The time spent should instead be productive, and while open-ended learning is great, some level of guidance can be very helpful as well. At the end of the day, you're not going to get everything right as a parent, and erring on the side of caution is understandable. But with the right attitude, maybe we can find the balance between fearing technology in our kids' hands and allowing it to better them.
Indeed, there is a silver lining -- it just might be the one you see on the side on your iPad.