Growing Up Digital: New Research and Tips for Parents

Kids as young as 2 are able to use technology better than some adults. We need to role model the proper use of technology to help our kids learn the balance of technology and social discipline.

Since I am both extremely naïve about the impact of technology on kids and quite far behind in adopting new technology myself (we seriously just got rid of our tube TV), I reached out to someone much wiser than myself: Jason Daniels is an Associate Director at the University of Alberta’s faculty of extension and, with many partners including Harvard and the Alberta Teacher’s Association, is working through a multi-part study with the goal of looking at technology and the impact on behaviour in children. They’ve dubbed this work ‘Growing Up Digital’ and it’ll be the first time youth and technology have been studied using a long-term, all-inclusive perspective as opposed to looking at specific relationships between things like technology use and sleep.

A couple things from our conversation stood out for me. First, this: he found it laughable when I said I hadn’t thought that much about technology use for my boys since they’re only 4 and 2.

“Can they open your phone?” He asked. “Scroll through photos and open apps?”

“Oh sure, they’ve been doing that since they were… oh, wait, I see what you’re getting at.”

Just because they aren’t at the age where we need to debate getting them their own phone, an important relationship with technology has already been developing that’ll likely stick with them from here until the end of iTime. Being thoughtful about teaching them the right way to use technology starts now. (And clearly should’ve started some time ago but all I have is now.)

Secondly, Daniels made me think about how knowledge is key and then as a parent, modeling is key. My boys use technology the exact ways I do. If I passively watch TV, they zone out and watch TV. If I use a search engine to look up an answer to an inquisitive question, they know technology can serve them. If I play on my phone at dinnertime instead of being my charming self, they know they don’t have to be engaged with those around them.

After our discussion, Daniels provided me with a list of guidelines suitable for parents of preschoolers regarding technology use:

Plan the technology use. Instead of having it fill up every open space, sit down as a family and make a plan as to when technology is being used at home. For instance, not at the dinner table. Or at bedtime, when children need to log off from the blue light emitted by screens, which can affect healthy melatonin levels needed to get enough sleep.

Avoid the temptation to use technology as a ‘digital babysitter’. It may be tempting to pull out a cellphone and hand it to a distracted child when you are trying to get work done or you are at a restaurant. In the short term, it works well, but then the kids aren’t learning self-regulation. If we don’t give them opportunities to practice, how are they going to learn to sit still and wait patiently?
Before nagging your kids about too much screen time, have a look at your own usage habits. Children often learn more from what parents do rather than what they say. As difficult as it can be, try to put the phone down when you get home from work, and instead of zoning out in front of the TV, unplug completely and make time to do stuff together.

Parents should be careful of any online exposure for children under the age of two and as they grow, focus on quality online activity. If they are online, they should be accessing only high-quality educational media that promote the development of literacy and math skills. Ideally, if they are using this media, the parents should be using it with them.

Teach kids to be responsible consumers of media early. As children are using technology at younger and younger ages, we need to teach them how to use it responsibly and effectively including imposing limits on their technology use and helping them to develop positive technology habits. This learning should really start the first time that children are given access to technology.  

FINDINGS FROM ONE PART OF THE STUDY THAT LOOKED TECHNOLOGY IMPACT ON STUDENTS:

Melissa Sawatzky, Community Marketing Manager at Kids & Company

Melissa lives in Calgary and is the Community Marketing Manager for Kids & Company in Alberta and BC. Her vision of what she would be like as a mom was shattered years ago when she discovered nothing ever goes as planned for parents, but laughter and community sees you through. You can reach her at msawatzky@kidsandcompany.com

Tags