The first time I embraced the benefits of letting kids use a mobile device was when my family flew to St. Thomas with our toddler and infant sons. I knew my nearly three-month-old wouldn’t be much of a challenge, rock him or give him the boob, and he would be good to go. My two-and-a-half-year-old, however, was probably going to have a hard time staying calm on a three-plus-hour flight. Fortunately, because of the awesome luck of my husband, we were the owners of a free iPad. I am not sure if we would have bought a tablet, otherwise, but I am glad we had one at the time.
I doubted how long the tablet would hold the interest of my toddler. Although we did allow him to watch television at home, he never stayed focused on any show for too long, often stopping to go play with his toys. Not so with the iPad. My son found certain apps, like puzzles or drawing games captivating, and easily maneuvered from one to the next. For someone with little prior experience with devices, his mastery of the tablet was impressive. Of course, that is no surprise to most parents today. We are raising digital natives.
Today’s parents are unique in that we are bringing up kids with technology that was non-existent during our childhood. We can’t turn to our own moms or dads, and ask, “So how often did you let us watch YouTube when we were little?” Nope, this is an area which we must largely navigate on our own. And, it seems, many of us, feel pretty lost. In fact, a full 92% of parents surveyed on behalf of Sprout (the 24-hour, pre-school channel), felt they need more information on how to guide their kids’ relationship with technology, and more than half (59%) felt judged by other parents over their own kids’ screen time.
I am one of those parents. I am always hesitant to admit how much screen time my kids get, knowing full well it’s probably more than the “experts” recommend. But once I feel I can safely talk about it, I find I am not alone. What’s more, I learn that, despite what naysayers would have you believe, our kids aren’t spending hours indoors glued to computer screens. They are exploring, playing and embracing the world, and, yes, technology, can be a wonderful tool to foster learning and growth.
Technology is here to stay, and while I respect those families who are “tech free,” I choose to embrace rather than fight what has become an integral part of our daily lives. I think TV shows and apps can be the first step in a journey of discovery. Take my older son’s love of trains. That love was kindled by watching “Thomas and Friends,” which lead to an interest in videos of real-life train footage, which encouraged a love of train books, which inspired a fascination with toy trains, and so on and so on. Today, my three-year-old can name most of the train parts, knows the difference between a steam train and a diesel engine, and loves building complex layouts with his toy tracks. I would love for future programs or apps to spark interest in a variety of subjects.
Used wisely, technology can open up our kids to a world of possibilities. This sentiment is so wonderfully expressed by the upcoming Sprout animated series “Dot.” Based on the children’s book by Zuckerberg Media founder and CEO, Randi Zuckerberg, “Dot.” uses its eponymous character to encourage kids to use their devices to discover new things in the world around them, while also reminding them to take tech breaks.
My boys and I had the chance to catch a sneak peek of the show before it airs on October 22. After checking out some of the terrific games through Sprout’s “Kids Playground” app, and enjoying some delicious treats at Black Tap in NYC, we sat down for a screening of “Dot.” In this episode, Dot and her friend Hal use an app to help them complete a scavenger hunt in the woods. They were also gently reminded to take time away from technology to climb trees and embrace the natural world. In a fun and non-preachy way, the show demonstrated how our devices can be learning tools and can enhance, rather than detract from our experiences.
I imagine when my kids are in school, tablets will be the new black and white notebooks. Yes, for a 33-year-old that is a frightening notion, but it doesn’t have to be. These are the tools for learning in our modern world. We can stay afraid and worry they might “ruin” our children, or we can embrace them and help our kids use them effectively. Technology isn’t the enemy. Technology is another opportunity for discovery. If an app about bugs, for example, inspires your kid to pick up a magnifying glass and search for critters in your back yard, consider that tech time well spent.
And for those many times when, like me, you start to wonder if your kids’ tech time is getting out of control, Sprout is here to help. Along with “Dot.,” the channel is launching a YouTube series, “The Do’s and Dots,” along with other resources, to help families navigate our digital world. Together, we can help our digital natives grow into responsible, digital citizens.
“Dot.” premieres Saturday, October 22 on Sprout (check your local listings). For more on kids and tech, visit SproutTalksTech.com.