Monday, April 1, 2013

Raising Healthy Digital Natives

"Am I a bad mum for letting my kids use my iPad / iPhone?" is a question I get asked a lot by clients. There's a lot of mum guilt out there about kids using digital technology and I want mums to be confident using technology with their kids, not scared about it. So I asked my friend Dr Kristy Goodwin, Director of Every Chance to Learn to share her insights on learning and development in a digital age. Enjoy this week's guest post and after reading it, head over to to find out more!

There is no doubt that today’s children are living ‘technologised childhoods’, with a variety of digital devices at their disposal. iPhones, iPads, video games, TVs, game consoles and techno-toys, just to name a few. As parents today, we are the first generation in over 150 generations of parents who are raising children who will be completely immersed in a digital world. This is terrifying and exciting all at once. We are witnessing unprecedented technological changes in a short period of time: would you believe that the iPad is just shy of being three years old?  It is not surprising then that parents are scrambling to keep pace and worry about the impact of these devices on their child’s development.

So how can parents navigate this digital terrain and determine how they will use technology with their children, who are digital natives? The genie is out of the bottle and new technologies like the iPad and video games will not be un-invented. Therefore, it is imperative that parents determine the best ways that these technologies can be used with their children, whilst limiting any possible adverse effects.

Parents can rest assured because we know that research tells us that intentional and developmentally-appropriate digital technologies can actually support young child’s learning. However, the media rarely report these findings and instead tend to ‘demonise’ technology. Too often, all technologies are grouped together under the one umbrella. We would never group all food types under one umbrella and claim that ‘food is bad for you’. Just like there are ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ foods, so too are there ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ technology choices. Parents want to know what is ‘nutrient-dense’ in terms of technology and where the ‘empty calories’ are in the digital world.

Not all technologies for children are created equal. For example, parents are often told that ‘screen time’ can be harmful and should therefore be limited. There is no doubt that excessive screen time and inappropriate content (violent video games and fast-paced cartoons before school) can have a detrimental effect on children’s learning and development. However, interactive technologies like an iPad or smartphones have been shown to improve young children’s learning when educational apps are selected. Even TV and video games have been proven to be beneficial and help children learn, when appropriate content is selected and parental interaction occurs.

So what can parents do to raise healthy ‘digital natives’?

  • Co-view with your child, where possible. I understand that this is not always achievable, but try to watch TV programs, play video games or use the iPad with your child. If not possible, talk to your child about what they did after they used the technology. This forces your child to think and prevents it from being a passive activity. This will develop your child’s language skills, which is critical for their academic learning.
  • Look for interactive media.  Touch technologies like iPads and smartphones are ideal learning tools, when used in the right ways. Look for apps that encourage interactivity, creativity and/or problem-solving, such as Draw & Tell, Toontastic, Monster Physics or LEGO Life of George.
  • Look for opportunities to use the technology to play. Years of research confirms that young children learn best through play. Select apps from a company called ‘Toca Boca’ that are play-based or encourage your child to play after they have watched a TV show or DVD, where they can take on the role of specific characters.
  • Use technologies that encourage movement. We also know that physical movement is required to build brains. TV has just become more interactive with the advent of interactive Sesame Street episodes for preschoolers and National Geographic for older children, accessed via the Kinect console. Children can now throw coconuts to Grover or explore animal habitats.
  • Model appropriate media use. I know this one is tricky, but we need to show children how to ‘switch off’. There is no doubt that today’s children will continue to live in a digitally-saturated world. It is therefore imperative that we teach them how to manage their media use, and not let media manage them (we have a current generation of teenage girls who sleep with their mobile phones under their pillows, for ‘fear of missing out’ [FOMO]). Set boundaries and limits around children’s media use at home (download a Media Contract or Media Token printable sheet from our website).
  • Turn it off. Background TV has been shown to have an adverse impact on children’s language development and reading skills.  When not in use, turn off all digital devices. Where possible, turn off all digital devices at least 90 minutes before bed, otherwise they can cause sleep delays.

Dr Kristy Goodwin is the Director of Every Chance to Learn. She is passionate about providing parents and early childhood teachers with research-based information about how today’s young children learn and develop in a digital age. She wants to empower parents and teachers to make informed decisions about the practical ways they can harness new technologies to optimise (not hamper) young children’s development.  Kristy delivers Parent and Teacher Seminars on how young children learn and develop in a digital age. She provides simple tips and strategies to parents and teachers. Visit her website for information about her seminars and upcoming e-products. Receive regular tips and strategies via her Facebook page.

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