I substitute taught at school all week and had the opportunity to really see how much 10 and 11-year olds are engaged in technology. I mean really engaged. I knew it, of course, having a daughter that age myself. These kids know far more about computers and all things electronic than I do, and that’s all good since they’ll be surrounded by it for the rest of their lives. I’m amazed at their abilities, considering I started waaaaaay back with floppy disks, something called cc:mail (like e-mail) and other ancient computer casualties.
But with every free minute the students have – indoor recess due to poor air quality, or simply spare time when their work is finished – they are on their Macs. Some play games, others create videos, but they all get on the computer.
At the same time, there seem to be an increasing number of social issues surfacing at school these days: conflict with friends at recess and an ironically ill-timed and insensitive comment during a lesson on empathy, for example. Is this just typical of the age? Maybe. Are there cultural dynamics to keep in mind? Perhaps. Or are our kids not learning – and practicing – appropriate social skills to carry them through adulthood?
Studies far and wide have shown some of the negative implications of kids spending too much time on computers or other electronics. One real concern is the lack of physical exercise, which can lead to a host of other health issues. Another is that some kids tend to become withdrawn when primarily interacting with computers. Is it because they have introverted personalities, or because they aren’t perfecting their social abilities? And what about overall dialogue skills? Texting and computers encourage abbreviated talk — how does this affect real face-to-face conversation practice in our young kids?
Another negative: handwriting. I can barely read my daughters’ handwriting anymore. Our kids are keyboard trained, and far earlier than my generation. Although I endured handwriting drills as a young student, my own penmanship has suffered as I’m a much faster typist than I am writer-with-a-pen (and my hands don’t cramp up as much). But considering the dexterity development of young fingers, I sure hope legible handwriting isn’t a thing of the past.
At a recent outing with my daughter that included lunch, I was struck by the number of families I saw sitting at tables, each with their own mobile phone or other electronic device capturing their complete attention. The family members were together, but did not interact at all. Is this healthy?
Of course, I believe that families instill their own values with their children. Some may primarily use technology as a resource, preferring to keep active and family time a high priority. Manners and morals are usually learned as a result of the overall family unit, and the use of technology at school or elsewhere doesn’t counter that.
I feel conflicted about it all. I want my kids to be up to speed on all kinds of technology, as I know first-hand what it’s like to feel behind in that kind of thing. It’s essential for their learning, future careers and lives. But I also want my kids to be kids – playing outside with lots of friends, knowing how to resolve their differences, and actually enjoying quality time interacting with other people. Like everything else, it’s a healthy balance that we seek for our kids. And after work today, I had my kids turn their computers off and we talked to each other. How refreshing!