How Parents Unwittingly Fuel Technology Dependence in Their Kids
So-called educational technology targets children from infancy and provides a convenient way for parents to feel good about using media in the early childhood years. Television programs and videos claim to be a parent’s answer to “what should my baby be learning?” and since such programming is developed by experts who certainly know more than the average parent about child development, these marketing ploys are accepted. Programs for infants are promoted as safe in small doses, as long as parents watch them with their little ones, and participate too.
Instead of books, parents put children on their laps and spend a half an hour clapping along to classical music and gazing at bright, swirling colors on a screen. This contrived form of “bonding” replaces tangible activities like rolling around on the floor, naming objects in the home, or letting a baby turn the pages of sturdy board book. Despite the American Academy of Pediatrics’ warning that children under the age of two should be exposed to no screen time, parents adjust the recommendation to fit their own family unit and routine. The APA warnings are for “other families” who use television or other media as a babysitter, not families that use it as a form of early education.
Once the two-year mark is passed, it seems that children face a no-holds-barred attitude when it comes to television watching. A University of Michigan study found that television viewing among young children is at an eight-year high. Children between the ages of two and five watch an average of 32 hours of television every week, between regular programs, videos, and programming available through gaming consoles. It is not the actual television shows that are harmful; in fact, the Journal of American Medical Association found that some educational television between the ages of three and five improves reading skills. Rather, it is the overuse of television and technology, and the underuse of basic learning activities like reading a book or playing with a ball that creates academic disengagement in the school years.
Furthermore, active technology, like using a computer or tablet for toddler learning activities, can foster academic disengagement by making the learning process too easy. If a two-year-old thinks the answer is always the touch of a screen away, he or she won’t learn to search for answers or show his or work. What parents today view as learning improvements from their own childhood are actually modern conveniences that devalue the pursuit of knowledge.
The eagerness to let technology replace traditional early childhood learning methods presents large-scale problems, though the intent of the parents using that technology is sound.
Why not give children a head start on learning ABCs, colors, and numbers that are easily taught through repetitious technology applications? Parents are not deliberately leading their pre-K offspring down the road of academic disengagement or anti-intellectualism for life, but by allowing technology to define early childhood learning, the seeds of both problems are sown. Questions that cannot be answered within a simple application format become too difficult, or too time-consuming, for children to try to sort out later on.
As educators, the issue of parent dependency on technology is a problem that has not yet been fully recognized. The first children with access to mobile applications from infancy are just beginning their K-12 careers and will likely see some of that technology made available in their classrooms. How will these children react when they are given a book to read, or receive a marked-up math worksheet that requires editing by hand? Will these children scoff at the idea of non-digital requests, or handle them graciously as part of the learning process?
As with any technological progress in classrooms, mobile technology certainly has its positive place but educators (and the parents before them) should also be asking what is being replaced – and how much of K-12 learning should have a technological substitute. Dependency on technology, particularly when it pertains to educational goals, is an attitude planted by parents, often unknowingly, and contributes to academic disengagement by making learning too convenient and traditional learning pursuits too boring.