Thursday, August 30, 2012

Technology and kids

I've been thinking about this topic for a while, and I've got quite a few thoughts swirling around in my head, so hopefully I can pull them together and get them all out clearly.

A while ago (can't remember exactly where or when) I read something that said, when it comes to technology, we are immigrants but our children are natives.  It really made me start thinking about my kids, and how they will interact with technology and how it will shape their lives.  It will definitely be different than my own experience, no doubt about that.

The other night a friend and her husband were over for supper, and we got to reminiscing about how we were introduced to computers and the internet.  We talked about when we first got our own email addresses (I believe I was about 16).  We laughed about the sound of the dial-up (beep boop screeeeeeech), and how you had to get off the computer if mom or dad wanted to use the phone.  How we'd get home from school and go on instant messenger to "chat" with our friends, even though we just saw them and there was really nothing new to say, but just because it was such a novelty.  How now we are so attached to our cellphones that we feel almost naked without them (not me though - I have a very basic cellphone which is usually dead in the bottom of my purse. :P  However, the day when my internet wasn't working for half the day....  that's a different story).

These days, kids are exposed to technology far sooner, and at a sometimes alarming rate.  But is that a good thing or a bad thing?  Is all that screen time really a benefit to them?

We've purposely tried to limit the amount of "screen time" (TV, computer, etc) that our kids are exposed to (please note, this is just our decision for our family - I know that everyone will make their own decision for their family and I'm not judging or saying you need to do what we did.  This is just what works for us).  We noticed something when Annika was just a little baby, maybe around 2-3 months, that helped make the decision for us - she was absolutely captivated by the TV screen.  She would stop crying, stop fussing, completely tune out the rest of the world if she could catch a glimpse of that screen.  And we didn't like it.  She became a little zombie, even at such a tender age.  So after noticing that, and discussing it, we decided to keep the TV off when she was awake (or, when she was still little enough, we would hold her so that she couldn't see the screen).  This worked for us, and for a while, when Annika got bigger, she didn't even take notice of the TV when it was on.  I remember when I tried to watch "Charlie Brown Christmas" with her, an all-time favorite of mine (she was just over a year and a half at the time), and my somewhat-disappointment that she had no interest in it at all, and wouldn't even stay sitting on the couch with me.

So for about the first 2 1/2 years of her life, Annika didn't watch TV.  That all changed when Emmett was born, and Annika decided that that would be the perfect time to stop napping.  That did not make for a happy mama.  I needed a little sanity, a little break, so I started letting her watch TV after lunch, which usually coincided with when I would feed Emmett.  Once we got into the routine of it, she started sitting still and paying attention to the TV.  At first it was just a half hour that she would get to watch, then we started watching Sesame Street and it was a full hour.  She's "outgrown" Sesame Street now (at 4!!), but she still gets to watch an hour of TV after lunch, once Emmett goes down for his nap.  Usually it's Dora the Explorer or Strawberry Shortcake.  Occasionally she'll get to watch a movie (she's a big Shrek fan, although not as much lately).  Her TV "repertoire" is fairly limited, but she seems to be okay with that (I'm the one who usually pushes to find a new show, when I can't stand hearing the same ones over and over again!).  As for Emmett, since the TV is only on when he's asleep, he's still blissfully unaware of such things.  On the few occasions when it is on and he's around, he's just like Annika was, and pays little attention to it.

Lately, Annika has discovered the computer, and the fact that there are games online that are designed especially for kids.  I had a hard time with this one, mostly because I don't want to share my computer!  At first I would let her play a game every now and then, but it was getting to be a bit frustrating for both of us - for me because she would pester me to let her play, and for her, because she never knew when she'd be allowed to play (TV time has always been very predictable, which I think is a good thing for her).  So recently, I decided that she could have 15 minutes of computer time each day (I set the timer), as long as the day before she had cleaned up her room after quiet time and cleaned up the toys before bed.  I'm hoping to make a little "chore chart" for her to keep track of that, since she loves stuff like that.  It seems to be working pretty well so far.  Yesterday she even decided she was done before her 15 minutes were up.  She's fairly limited with the games she plays (just a few on the Strawberry Shortcake website), so if anyone can recommend good, simple games/websites, that would be great.  I also think I'd like to get a mouse for her, since we just use the track pad on our laptop, but it's a bit difficult for her.  She can move the mouse and click on things, but the concept of clicking and dragging is too difficult for her.  I've also been contemplating getting her one of those kid-version tablets for Christmas, but I still haven't decided yet whether it would be a good thing or not.

Little by little, technology is starting to creep into our little girl's life, and I have to admit, I'm still a little uncertain about how I feel about that.  It's undeniable that one day she will be immersed in it, but does she need to be already?  Should I be trying to preserve these screen-free (or rather, screen-limited) days, or should I be preparing her for what's to come?  Am I doing her a disservice by not teaching her about computers?  Will she be behind the rest of her classmates when she enters kindergarten in a year?  I know that sounds sort of silly, but is it true?  Things have definitely changed since I was in school.  Computers are now an integral part of the classroom.  Just the other day I read on a friend's blog about how she created her own QR code for her students' parents to scan with their smartphones to access her contact information and the class website (she teaches grade 1).  A little while ago there was a news article about a high school near our place requiring students to have laptops.  I'm not saying that the influence of technology is bad, but it's definitely changing things.

And how does my own screen time affect the kids?  I don't have the TV on during the day, but I certainly spend time in front of the computer.  Usually it's not much - just replying to an email, checking Facebook, looking for a recipe, pinning something to Pinterest...  harmless stuff, right?  Or maybe not.   I'm sure most of us have read this article - "How to Miss a Childhood" (if you haven't, it's worth a read).  For me, it's not a phone that distracts my attention, but my computer.  But really, is it any different?  Maybe a little more limited, since I don't always have my computer with me (I never go on the computer while driving ;) ).  But what am I missing in those brief minutes when I'm just "checking in"?  What message am I sending to my children about what's really important?  I'm not quite prepared to say that I won't go on the computer when the kids are around (because sometimes I really do need to send an email before I forget, or get a recipe from online for making supper), but I'm going to try to consciously cut down on the number of "quick checks" that I do. 

Wow, this ended up being quite the post!  Thanks for taking the time to read it.  Hopefully all my ramblings made some kind of sense.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic - how does your family deal with things like screen-time and technology?


Tricia Funk said...

My nieces like to play on the Kids CBC website. The other day my 4 year old niece got stuck in a part of the website she didn't want to be in. I had no idea how to get back to where she wanted to go so I called my 6 year old niece over and in a few clicks she had everything back to the way it should be. Boy, did I feel pathetic!

Tenille said...

It has a ton of girl games. The only thing is there are a ton of girl games and you can't really limit the amount of games she can see. I think I put a few of them on the desktop for easier access for the kids. My girls love this site, even the boys really. A mouse would work so much better, at 3 Nathan was able to operate the mouse and actually ended up deleting a few things off the desktop!

Lara Penner said...

My advice... don't fear the future :)

kjad said...

The sad thing is that this topic doesn't get easier as the kids get older! :(

My kids already do not remember a time where we didn't have access to a computer. (We got our first one when Kiandra was in Kindergarten.) They can't even fathom what life could have been like before Google. ;)

I am a terrible example of using screen time because I am on the computer way more than I should be. I can justify some of the time as I do use it for school work but really I could cut back.

The use of technology is so prevalent and I think it is our job as parents (and teachers!) to use it wisely and also teach our kids how to use it wisely. It can be a useful tool but it can also be used unwisely. So many of my Grade 1 students already use the computer at their homes and so by teaching them to login to our classroom page, (where I have linked sites I feel are valuable), they can show their parents what they have been doing at school and practice their skills online. We also address internet safety in second term and this I think is very important for kids to understand because they will grow up not necessarily being aware of the dangers of the (very public!) internet as well as the aspect of cyberbullying and that things posted on the internet can stay there even if you wish they would disappear.

I don't think it's wrong to limit screen time and I don't think you should be worried that Annika will be missing out or behind. If you are looking for some good sites for additional games, I like and my favourite author site is

Pamela said...

Sorry! I didn't realize Kezia was signed in! That last comment was me! (I hate sharing my computer too-probably the reason Kiandra wanted to buy her own!)

Andrea said...

My kids don't get a lot of computer time...even though we have a second older laptop that is always freed up and available for them to use. I don't have any rules about it, it's just not a big thing in our house. From time to time they will ask to play some games (PBS Kids and Fun Brain are the sites they typically go to) but they don't last on it for very long.

Joelle actually gets her lowest "marks" in her computer lab and I'm quite okay with that at this point. It means that she's obviously not spending too much time on here.

Now TV is perhaps another story! That's where it's harder for me to cut back on for them. Even their Wii they hardly play, and my iPhone is a very rare treat. :) so yeah, it's really just TV.

I do think it's sad how big of a role technology has in our society now though. Certainly there are many benefits to it - and I'M certainly addicted to it - but I get worried when I think about how fast things are changing. How so many real-life conversations are already being overshadowed by text messages, etc. Will there come a day when nobody sees each other face-to-face anymore? Where we all stay at home and send out robots with TV screens depicting our faces like Sheldon on Big Bang Theory? :) I may joke about it, but seriously, sometimes I wonder...

Meghan said...

I'll have to go look for the link again, but I think we used to let Wyatt play games at That might be the one that switched to a paid site though. :(
On the topic of kids tablets...and this is just my opinion...don't bother. As you may know, we bought the VTech InnoTab for Wyatt. It's already been returned. Initially the cost is obviously cheaper than a regular tablet, but the cartridges are ridiculously over priced ($24ish). You can download some apps on the website (for LeapPad as well), but they are very basic. We used to have an Asus tablet, and downloaded apps for Wyatt to play on there, I found the selection much better. I don't know if that's even something you want to consider, but the screen is bigger, the response on the touch screen is better, and the selection of games and apps is much wider. However - it's not built to be handled by kids so you'd have to keep an eye on it and make sure they're not dropping it on the floor. :P