kids and technologyWatching my three year old nephew operate a cellphone, swipe an Ipad touch screen, change the TV channel, put in a DVD – all with ease - has made me acutely aware of the generation gap between parents and children that is widened by technology. Many children of the new N (net) generation are born into a world of technology and exposed to it from such an early age.  This growing movement in technology makes me believe that children’s minds are being wired totally differently to those of previous generations.  Technology can be used as a tool to empower people, however it can have its disadvantages too, if not used in the correct manner. Social media, computers, smart phones, tablets and television are becoming an important part of children’s lives.  On questioning a few teens about their exposure to technology, it was identified that many would rather spend money on airtime to communicate with peers on social media than buy name brand clothes.  It thus appears that many of the youth of today are driven by technology and networking is an important part of their lives. Advancements in technology has created a platform for freedom of expression and one can fill cyberspace with all personal thoughts/ feelings/ emotions.  With the heightened increase of communication through technology and with the use of social media, many gender, race and geographical boundaries are dissolved and people learn and share information with all despite differences.  This can however be dangerous too, as you are never certain of the type, age or intentions of the person you are communicating with on the other side of the screen.  Below are a few challenges faced in this digital age.

Disadvantages of a digital world:

  • It can be difficult to monitor who you are communicating with as many people create multiple facades.
  • Technology changes the way children interact with each other – it reduces the amount of face-to-face interaction.  Children often get very brave and will interact behind the comfort of their cell phone screen, which often leads to cyber bullying, ruined reputations of children and can become very dangerous.
  • It appears as if children may get very distracted by the overload of information from the cyber world and not enough knowledge is gained/ retained.
  • Use of cell phones has brought about changes to the way that children write as when texting messages children often use acronyms or shortened forms of words.
  • Distributing personal and private details on inappropriate platforms can be very dangerous.
  • Children can be exposed to so much dangerous, disturbing and age-inappropriate content.

The one certain thing about technology of all kinds is that it is dynamic and constantly advancing.  Despite some identified negatives, there are countless advantages regarding the use of all the different technologies.  Below are some guidelines for parents to ensure that their children only benefit from using technology.

A few simple guidelines to using technology effectively:

  • Parents need to monitor their child’s use of technology.  Encourage the child to show you what pictures they have on their phones and inform you who they are communicating with.
  • Children must be taught never to do something in cyber world that they would not be prepared to do in real life – for example say hurtful comments etc.
  • Monitor who your child is “friends” with and determine who they are interacting with online.  If your child is on Facebook – it is advised that you become one of your child’s “friends” to keep watch of any untoward happenings.
  • Make your child aware to monitor their behaviour at all times and do not do anything that they are going to regret.  Often, these moments are captured by others, put onto cyberspace and leave a digital trail that can never be deleted – Google Never Forgets!
  • Parents are encouraged to keep open relationships with their children and allow them to use all forms of technology in a safe, contained and controlled environment.
  • Parents need to educate children how to manage their online profiles and increase their privacy settings.
  • Always set boundaries with your child when you give them a cell phone, computer, tablet and even when they watch TV.

Children exposed to the wonders of technology have infinite learning opportunities.  Many children tend to do poorly as they struggle to retain the information taught and do not practice it on a daily basis.  Engaging children in technology that can improve their understanding of concepts taught and help them to consolidate information learnt in class will assist children to improve their academic performance. Another important factor to consider when exposing children to the vast array of new media is that it must be engaging – thus children should interact with it.  Interaction is more beneficial for a child than passively watching television.  Children learn best with hands-on implementation rather than when passively watching.  It is also beneficial for children to use technology, games and apps that tie into curriculum standards.  These will expose children to some of the information that might have been presented in class, which will help them to gain a better understanding of the content.

In conclusion

It is important to note that it’s not technology or the services offered that are the issue – it is the way it is used or abused.  Technology is ever evolving, and everyone needs to take ownership and responsibility of managing it in the correct way.  The N-generation is at the cusp of a technological revolution – we need to teach them to embrace it in the appropriate manner!

Megan Osler is an Educational Psychologist working at JvR Psychometrics’ Bethlehem office. You can contact her at megano@jvrafrica.co.za

Photo Credit: Mads Boedker via Compfight cc