As with all good things, technology can be used effectively, or misused inappropriately. This is especially true for kids, who seemingly grow up with a smart phone surgically attached to their hands. People get a kick out of watching toddlers puzzle over magazines or picture books that don’t magically expand or contract with the touch of a finger, but is all of this access to three-dimensional tools turning our children into one-dimensional learners? How can parents help them to find the balance?
If It Ain’t Broke…
Devices like computers and iPads can foster mastery, creativity and the ability for kids to find their own, unique learning styles and areas of excellence. Even children who struggle in school often discover a technology-based niche in which they can achieve expertise, boosting self-esteem and expanding out their ability to learn in other areas. Technological devices, unlike television or even listening to lectures, do not create a passive experience. The interaction they require can encourage not only a rich learning environment, but also exploration, discovery and invention. For today’s generation of learners, all this input can be, however, a double-edged sword.
It may not be how much you utilize your electronic devices but what you’re using them for that will determine their overall effect on learning and children’s ever-increasing, or decreasing, potential to benefit. Warring studies show both positive and negative effects on the brain by digital devices, but many experts are in agreement that unending gaming, violent programming and a constant stream of digitized stimuli can turn kids into adrenaline junkies who are hooked on immediate gratification, thus depriving them of the ability to slow down or acquire value from other types of activities, such as puzzles or board games. The constant distraction provided by checking email and texting endlessly is also an obvious impediment to learning, particularly if kids sneak their phones into the classroom. However, when used effectively, a digitized experience can expand the world for kids in incredibly valuable ways.
Teachers Weigh In
Many teachers, even at the elementary school level, report heightened self-esteem among children who are allowed to interact with technology in the classroom. As has been the case in schools utilizing computer-supported intentional learning environments, computers appear to be anything but instruments of isolation. When used in a group learning environment, computers actually encourage cooperation among students, with those who can grasp new concepts quickly being incredibly eager to teach others and take on a leadership role, thus invigorating the classroom and sparking curiosity and new ideas.
Smart boards and their ability to fuse the comfortable and familiar blackboard experience with data retrieval have also provided teachers with a powerful way to engage their students, revitalizing the learning climate and allowing kids who are out sick to participate in classroom activities from home. It is at home, however, where kids will either use or abuse technology the most.
Finding the Balance
The unending drone of a television set being utilized for hours on end as an electronic babysitter clearly has a deleterious effect on young brains, whether it’s tuned to educational programming or an unending stream of mind-bending cartoons. This is also true if over-utilized technological devices are being used by kids without adult supervision, input or guidance.
As with all things, it’s up to parents to monitor or even control what their kids are tuned into, how often they’re plugged in and what other activities are filling their days. Apps can be a valuable and rich key to knowledge but range from the ridiculous to the sublime. Making a point of deciding which apps your child will download is vital, as is peppering their learning with outside experiences such as museum trips or nature walks.
Just as important is the example parents set for their kids. Overly plugged in, distracted parents may be setting a negative example for their kids to follow, as well as losing out on quality time better spent with their families. As with all things in life, finding the balance creates the experience. In the case of plugged-in kids, the most important element to this balance act are the adults who care about them.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.