Every now and then I get asked questions about parenting. It makes sense since I write kids books and I feature my own kids in our ads, but I generally stay away from talking too much about how to raise kids. In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a pretty big believer in the individual—and that extends to my belief that there isn’t anyone more qualified to know what’s best for your family than you are.
With that said, I thought I’d share a little bit of my thoughts on kids and tech since it seems like a question that people ask a lot.
In the grand scheme of things, we are still relatively new to the whole tech/parenting thing. Sure, when I was a kid, we had some video games, and even then there were arguments and different schools of thought regarding what the effects of Nintendo or Sega would be on a developing mind. Even back then, some kids weren’t allowed to have video games at all, some got to play for a certain amount of time a week (as in my case), and others could pretty much do whatever they wanted.
But modern parenting as it applies to tech is a whole other beast. Kids are on computers at school. Our phones are also total entertainment systems. Does anyone even have a landline anymore? Tech has gone from something we had to seek out and separately purchase to something that’s virtually impossible to avoid and completely tied up with most every aspect of our lives.
Arguments for and against tech use and children can be supported with a plethora of articles from dozens of credible sources. Some argue that all the worry is much ado about nothing or even that a lot of the concerns are being made up, or at least magnified, in order to monetize fear. Others point out that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs raised their kids tech-free and we should all be following suit.
But which side is right?
As with most things in life, I believe that the best course lies somewhere in the middle of all the worry. The Greek poet Hesiod counseled, “observe due measure; moderation is best in all things,” and Plautus, several hundred years later, agree that “moderation in all things is the best policy.”
Last week I talked about a decrease in family time and how it might be tied to an increase in mental health problems in children. My kids use tech. We’re a techy family. But we also play together. We watch movies, and practice music, and play board games a lot as a family too. I like the idea of families deciding to what degree tech is going to be a part of family life, and adjusting as they go along.
I love hearing from parents of reluctant readers who are thrilled that we offer all of our books in audiobook format. Their kids are learning all the important lessons in our books that they might not have learned otherwise—all because they can listen on their phone or tablet. That’s a huge win for tech! (And mom and dad!)
Speaking of audiobooks… Did you know that a recent study showed that our brains react almost exactly the same to listening to an audiobook as they do to reading? That is great news for a lot of families who have worried that their kids aren’t enjoying reading like they hoped they would, and who may have felt guilty that their kids “only” like audiobooks.
Everytime I hear about stuff like that, I’m reminded of the teachings of my late friend, John Taylor Gatto. He knew—and taught many of us—how personal learning truly is, and how uniquely different every person is in their education needs and learning styles. I love that our kids now have so many options for learning and sources of education. It’s exciting to think of all the advancements that are going to come in the future, and how they will benefit all of us in continuing to be lifelong learners.
So what’s the verdict on tech?
Well… that’s going to have to be up to you. I tend to agree with Dr. Gummer, the founder of Fundamentally Children, who says, “It’s about sharing things together and creating bonds and attachments so that children feel they belong in the family and have routines and traditions—but that doesn’t mean it can’t be sat round a screen watching a film or engaging with a Wii or Minecraft. The danger is we demonise tech itself with a broad brush, when it is all about the activities.”
Tech is just a tool. If we are using it to replace ourselves as parents, we might run into trouble. But if we are using it to enhance our lives, to further our education, and to make family time enjoyable, then I say we are on the right track! Just like in everything else, we are our children’s most influential teachers. Our use of tech will heavily direct the importance that they put on it, and the ways that they want to use it. They’re always watching and learning from our example. No pressure, right?