Recent media commentators bemoaning children's technology use and talking about screentime as if it's a deadly disease, sound eerily similar to the "When I was a kid..." crowd lamenting their rose-coloured lost youth. Just stop. Your ignorance is showing. The world will never be like it was when you were a kid and it won't ever be again. That's how time works.
How many more self-serving media personalities with no experience in education who actively spread misinformation and intimidate parents about the 'dangers' of technology for young children do we have to endure?
It's technophobes congratulating other technophobes on their technophobia. Yawn.
There's a few issues at play here.
1. 'Screentime' does not encapsulate all that kids do with technology, particularly at school.
2. Being a student at school does not make you an expert in education.
3. Some people are just not good with change.
I've read the Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines from the Department of Health for children 0-5 and 5-12. I'm not here to argue against the fact that sitting down for too long every day can lead to obesity. I respect the expertise of the people who undertook the studies resulting in recommendations for children under two years old to watch zero TV. Their suggested alternatives for down-time for kids including; reading, looking at books, drawing, colouring in, building with blocks, playdough and jigsaw puzzles vastly overestimate my 9 month old daughter, but alright, I'll go with it. (Facetious much? Who, me?). But take note, 'screentime' isn't being defined very well. And hilariously, those speaking the loudest about what a siege on childhood 'screentime' is, are doing so from a TV. Irony anyone?
It's the denigration of the term 'screentime' that I find is confusing and potentially harmful. I'd argue what is really being demonised is 'passive screentime' or consumptive use. Many mobile devices include apps and software that do not demand anything from the user other than a few taps, therefore not being that different to tapping the buttons on your TV remote. I would go so far as to say that there isn't anything wrong with that, on balance. But doing only that, or doing that all day are where the problems start to become obvious. That's not what educators do. That's not how schools direct the use of technology with kids. Families relaxing at home with a screen for entertainment value is an entirely different situation. Lumping all screen use together and calling it bad is idiotic and reckless.
For the littles, heavily directed, prescriptive styles of digital activities are required to increase engagement. But as those littles grow, that style of "fill in a box", "do this", "oops try again" style of digital app are no longer educationally appropriate as they do not foster creativity or support memorable and meaningful learning. They're just a digital substitute of 'guess what's in the teacher's head'. It's busy work and frankly, a wasted learning opportunity. There is also a need to create a distinction in terms of pre-schoolers from the early schoolers developmentally speaking. Here is where I defer to the early childhood experts, those who purport the importance of whole body learning, the physicality involved with play, exposure to natural environments, building social skills and language development. Educationally speaking, technology use is meant to service learning at point of need. We aren't here to teach kids devices. We are here to support them in using a wide range of tools, including digital tools, to understand curriculum concepts.
Older forms of technology have been ill-suited for use by young children. The development of newer, more interactive touchable interfaces may be more suitable for children, because they allow for physical manipulation that encourages curiosity, creativity, self-expression, and discovery (Plowman & Stephen, 2003 from Beschorner, B & Hutchison, A, 2013).
Littles using technology unsupervised will cause issues that have been widely reported. Just like using a playground unsupervised causes issues, or unsupervised cooking, or unsupervised footy etc. Just because a tool is used poorly does not make it a bad tool. For those of you who still doubt this and think iPads and mobile devices are terribly dangerous for kids, you really need to consider what harm can be achieved with a long, wooden, sharpened stick. We give those to kids all the time. They are called pencils. It's not the tool that's at fault when incidents occur, responsibility exists for adults to support children who are learning to use the tools appropriately. That's the thing about learning, it often includes mistakes and poor choices and then reflection and growth. You educate kids to navigate their world. This includes technology and mobile devices, because they are a part of their world. There's a distinction between technology use at school and that which occurs at home. For the most part, educators intentionally embed technology into the richer education experience. It's part of the experience, not THE experience. It's balanced with the other aspects of the curriculum.
Judge (2002) argued that developmentally appropriate computer use enhances not only what young children learn, but also how they learn. When well designed software is used with young children, they become engaged, are involved in exploration, their interest is maintained over sustained periods of time and active involvement is encouraged, rather than passive behaviour (Judge, 2001). Studies have found that open-endedchild-directed software makes a more significant difference in children’s developmental gains than drill-and-practice software (Haugland, 1992, 1999).
And we arrive back at our holy grail: balance. Achieving balance is really hard. Advocating balance to people who prefer quick fixes, black and white instant solutions and nice little sound bytes tied up with bows doesn't get you very far. Real balance is far messier than that; it's constant compromise, discipline, consistency and can be demanding. Parents who achieve even just a little bit of balance with their kids in any domain are legends. Every single parent I know is doing the best job they possibly can, championing the needs of their kids. What irritates me, is the way some sectors of the media seem to have latched onto all technology use as the pariah of the modern family. But, I've noticed that there is a silent revolution happening in many homes. The tech is winning, people.