Our society is increasingly technology oriented. Just a few decades ago we never even knew about the Internet and now we can’t seem to live without being online all day, every day … including our youngest children. While tech skills are a valuable tool, as parents and professionals who work with children, we need to help children in our care balance their lives, to use technology as a tool, as a means to an end, not the destination. Please understand, I am not anti-tech; technology is here to stay and an integral part of all our world. My concern is that children are encouraged in all areas of their lives and their development.
One of the questions I get asked most by parents of young children is how much tech time is too much. Interestingly, parents were asking this same question about television not that long ago. Equally of note, the answer is the same – if your child has no other activities or interests that are “unplugged”, they need to broaden their activities. In fact, social skills are ironically the collateral damage from too much social media. Many adults and children are spending so much time in the virtual world that they don’t know how to act when dealing with the person in front of them. When we are looking from a developmental perspective, a media overload hinders a child's ability to separate fantasy from reality leading to stunted social growth.
Children, especially young children, learn best by doing. Children need to be engaged in a multitude of activities that challenge all their senses, encouraging growth in all areas – physical, social, emotional, and cognitive. These areas, or domains of child development, are inter-related and cumulative in their effects on each other area as well as overall child development. When children are not given the opportunities to develop across all domains, their growth becomes stunted with lasting effects. If a child spends most of their time on a computer or tablet, that object becomes their focus and their reality. We need to encourage our children to run, to jump, and to interact with other children. We need our children to experience life in real time, not only at the fastest speed that our Internet provider can supply. We need our children to deal in person, face-to-face, with peers to learn negotiation skills, and, with adults close to them to serve as role models.
As adults in a child's life, we have a responsibility to serve as that "live" role model. The adage "Do as I say and not as I do" never has worked long-term. Remember we talked in previous blogs about purposeful parenting. There is no greater purposeful act you can perform as a parent than being a role model for the values and life you want for your child. Unplug as a parent, as a family – talk, play a game, read a book, run outside. As a childcare provider or educator, check that your lesson plans include activities that encourage growth and exploration in all domains, not just cognitive, not just high tech. To teach our children to lead a balanced life we need to encourage balanced growth. Take one small step today – put down the technology and pick up a book. Hold your child, read together, discuss, analyze, explore. Reading together, one simple act, crosses into all domains of development. Your child may initially complain, but done right, you are making memories that can't be captured online.