Do you feel pressured to introduce technology to your kids? Learn why technology is unnecessary for kids, even in these gadget-laden modern times.
“And this here is our computer room,” the preschool director showed her tour group. “Here’s where they learn how to use the computer, using learning apps and games.” Four computers lined the wall with kids toying with mice and teachers guiding them through their letters and numbers. From the director’s tone of voice, I assumed I was supposed to be impressed, except… I wasn’t.
Computer use has little purpose in a preschool or in any classroom, not until you get into middle school at the earliest.
That’s right—no computers until you’re 10 years old.
Seems preposterous in these modern times, more so coming from someone who sits in front of a computer all day for her living (and then more hours in the evening on her blog).
What’s the deal, then? When every kid, from infancy through elementary school, seems to have already grabbed hold of his parents’ smart phone and iPad, why do I keep these gadgets far away from my own?
I’m not going to make a case of the evils of technology. This post isn’t about that. Many of us can highlight why technology has been good for our kids. The experts also have their recommendations for age-appropriate screen time, so I won’t get into when and how much would be all right. And lastly, research seems to point to a zillion conclusions, including the benefits for and the warnings against screen time for kids.
Why technology is unnecessary for kids
Instead, this is my case for why, whether they’re good for kids or not, technology is unnecessary for kids as a learning or training tool.
1. Kids learn the same principles in other ways
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One of the selling points of tech gadgets is that they’re teaching tools. For instance, we own a Leap Frog toy that lights up to show you how to trace your letters and numbers. A fun activity for kids, I’m sure, since they hear music and see lights.
But necessary? My eldest learned his letters and numbers through more traditional ways: reading, playing with alphabet magnets, pointing them out everywhere we go.
What about math games that teach kids—using impressive graphics—how to add and subtract? Useful and fun when you’re stuck in your hotel room and dinner reservations aren’t for another hour, but not necessary when your child can learn the same skills by counting the apples in your fruit bowl or solving math worksheets.
And studies have found that the benefits of digital toys and videos like Baby Einstein don’t do much. Instead, they worsen a child’s development.
“Babies require face-to-face interaction to learn,” says Dr. Vic Strasburger, professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “They don’t get that interaction from watching TV or videos. In fact, the watching probably interferes with the crucial wiring being laid down in their brains during early development.”
2. The learning curve isn’t that steep
Worried your child will fall behind her peers with her tech know-how?
Don’t. One kid’s ability to operate an iPad at six-years-old doesn’t determine her success later in life. Nor does it give her an extra edge.
Top employees at Silicon Valley’s companies— people you’d think would know a bit about technology or at least want to promote it—aren’t sending their kids to high-tech schools.
Instead, their kids attend schools that promote simple tools—you know, paper, pencils, blocks. Not until eighth grade do their kids hop on to the computer and begin learning its uses.
And it seems these parents are on to something. From her book, The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got There, author Amanda Ripley analyzed three top-performing countries—Finland, South Korea and Poland. What did she notice about their classrooms?
They didn’t have the fancy overhead monitors or iPads students in the U.S. relied on—items many assume would help bolster learning. Instead, they have basic desks and chairs, a chalkboard, books. They weren’t even allowed to use a calculator.
3. Kids are set apart by their ability to think…
…and not on their technical know-how.
Technology use in kids boasts many benefits: Wider access to information. Adaptation to modern times. Entertainment, especially with an educational slant.
However, what’s more important is a child’s comprehension of problems and her ability to solve them. The ability to think of novel ways of creating products and ideas.
Technology will be the way of life for our kids, and for many of them, their careers, from typing code to graphic design. Learning these skills will build her assets and set her apart from her peers. As such, she’ll need a few years of toying with technology so that she isn’t learning how to Google search at 16-years-old.
Technology does, and will continue to play a huge role, making our lives easier, more seamless and far better without it.
But what’s more important are the gears turning in a child’s mind: The ability to spot problems and create code for apps that will solve them. To put herself in her customers’ shoes and design materials that will resonate with them.
These are skills even those who rely on technology for their living can’t be taught on DVDs or apps. These skills are better mastered through real-life problem and solving.
How to use technology
Back to my first point that technology isn’t evil: it’s not. I actually love technology. And while my kids don’t watch television (we don’t have cable) and my eldest didn’t watch anything digital until he was well over two-years-old, technology isn’t my enemy.
I just use it mindfully. For instance,
- Don’t use technology as a reward. I’m not a big fan of rewards, but if you must, stick to something besides technology. Otherwise, you’ll end up glamorizing it more than is needed. Stick to rewards you want your kids to value, such as an outing to a restaurant or a special book.
- Use your own gadgets when the kids are asleep. Kids model us, so when they see us typing away on our computers all day long or swiping our phones through dinner conversations, they’ll follow suit. Worse, they can throw your tech habits back at you when you’re trying to curb their usage (“But mom, you’re always on the computer!”).
- Set limits. As your kids get older, you’ll loosen the reins on technology as they become more age-appropriate. Start setting limits. My four-year-old likes watching movies, but I don’t like the idea of him sitting in front of the TV for long, so we break them up into 30 minutes segments. My sons’ pediatrician gives her kids a time limit on their iPad usage.
- Engage with your child while they’re using the gadgets. Pull out your iPhone so your child can play a game, but better yet, play with him. Or put on a show and explain why the characters appear elated or hurt. Technology doesn’t have to be a divide between parents and kids (or a babysitter!) but when used correctly, can be a medium for yet another engaging activity.
- Use common sense. If you haven’t had a decent conversation with your kids all day, and they’re mimicking values you may not approve of, and they’re not doing much of anything else, including outdoor time and school work—then cut back.
Do you feel pressured to buy your child an iPad loaded with educational apps? Don’t. Because while technology provides benefits—from new ways to add numbers to entertaining your kids—what’s more important and effective is in how your child is able to problem solve and think critically.
Because really, parents can make learning just as fun—if not more so—than any downloadable app. You know your child better than any app and can find creative ways to teach math or comprehend a story.
Technology is unnecessary for kids because you can do things it can’t: concoct science experiments with baking soda and vinegar. Teach rhymes and syllables with songs. Learn fractions while cooking in the kitchen.
Good ol’ reading every day and asking questions. Engaging with our kids. Setting a good example yourself. These are time-tested ways to encourage learning in your child.
No downloads necessary.
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Read more on why technology is unnecessary for kids:
- The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got There by Amanda Ripley
- What Every Kindergartener Should Know
- Small Habits, Big Results: 8 Long Term Benefits of Reading to Your Child
- How to Raise a Smart Child
- How to Prepare Your Child for College (Because It’s Not Too Early)
Your turn: What are your thoughts on technology? Do you think technology is unnecessary for kids or an important tool? What have been the benefits and pitfalls of technology in your home? Share your thoughts in the comments!