Tech & Tykes: What's the Issue?

In the late 90’s, computers were just starting to infiltrate homes and workplaces alike as the ultimate productivity tool. I was a cocky A-level student then, constantly achieving less than stellar grades, and completely aloof about the things that were going on around me, one of which, was computers. I swore to myself that I would never use a computer, because quite frankly, I never saw the relevance of such advanced technology in my life.

In 2001, I built my own computer out of necessity for my studies. Since then, I haven’t looked back, nor have I been able to shake off doing tech support for the companies I’ve worked with (and my own family) since.

Today, the technology age is in full swing; we grow increasingly reliant on smartphones and tablets for communications and computing, traditional media companies are gasping for breath as digital media takes over the world, and forward thinking drives us into newer ways to interact with our machines, from wired control (like the good old Atari 2600 or the 1st Playstation) to wireless control (Nintendo Wii), to just waving our entire bodies around for control (you’ve seen the crazy dancers prancing around in front of the XBox Kinect).

 

The global takeover has even seeped into our parenting habits. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the kind that readily hands over the iPad to your kid for that bit of peace and quiet (oh yeah, for education and entertainment and all that as well), or the kind that shakes your head in dismay over how technology has become a replacement for good parenting. As a young punk that had to deal with the reasoning for both sides of the war on Parenting 2.0, I understand where you’re coming from. All of you.

Fear of New Things

The biggest thing about this parental aversion to technology is that it’s happened countless times before in human history. When the radio first got popular in the pre-Depression era, parents were up in arms about how their children will turn into hipsters listening to this new-fangled rock-n-roll garbage. When televisions were being churned out of productions lines during the Depression era, parents were writing into their governments demanding that controls be in place to stop their children from watching too much of the devil’s picture-box. When computers started pushing VGA graphics and computer games were being offered on a buffet line,? again parents threw a fit. The fear of new things spans generations of parental worry, and quite frankly, does not look set to end anytime soon.

Unless we just calm down for a minute and think: why resist the inevitable, when you can use it to your full advantage?

My Child Doesn’t Need It

I have heard this proud proclamation by parents who simply refuse to allow their child any electronic entertainment past the Fisher-Price Barney Learning Fun Laptop. They cannot be more wrong.

Image courtesy of Nan Chiau Primary SchoolSchools all over the world are getting into the idea of interactive learning through the use of tablets and smart devices. One prominent example is Nan Chiau Primary School, who, in collaboration with chipset manufacturer Qualcomm, and none other than Microsoft, has embarked on a programme called the WE Learn mobile education project, “which uses 3G smartphones to create a 21st century classroom experience for Singaporean students”.

It won’t stop with Nan Chiau Primary; according to the Qualcomm press release, “The Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) is working to better prepare its nation?s students to thrive in a fast-changing and highly-connected world by promoting the development of self-directed learning and collaborative learning skills in its third Master plan for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in education.”

As our child advances in his or her education, computer usage will grow in increasing inevitability, from type-written compositions, class presentations and computer-based examinations, to video and audio editing, graphic generation and even 3D modeling, all before your child’s tertiary education is over, and any specialist modules are chosen.

Exposure to technology has never been more urgent for your child. Just like good early education ensures an easier time for your child’s academic life, for your child to get to know how to interact with technology and the wonders of what it can do in your child’s world, will make a big difference in whether he or she will do well in school, out of school and everything else in your child’s path.

The Internet is Evil

You know what I speak of. Uncensored opinions, unrestrained political/religious dialogue, cyberbullying, flame wars… and that’s just on STOMP. But lest we forget, the Internet is also a dearth of information happily shared by people who care as much for knowledge as parents do, if not more.

You need to first? acknowledge that the Internet is going to be the most viable, accessible and available? knowledgebase for your child – and you – to learn everything. Given the right resources and guidance, your child can become a whiz at any school subject, get access to any information quickly and efficiently, and the best part is, the skills that come with using the Internet for research and knowledge is a life skill that will follow your child through to old age.

The second thing you need to acknowledge is that the Internet is going to be the most viable, accessible and available? knowledgebase for your child to learn EVERYTHING. As much good as an open platform for knowledge, discussion and entertainment can bring, dealing with the bad things it can present – hate, violence, stupidity, even pornography – can be equally taxing on a parent. The good thing about technology development is that a lot of the innovation is being created by parents conscious of just this kind of thing. Allowing your child to surf the Internet should come with proper monitoring and restrictions, all of which are easily done with some configuration, which I will be dealing with in a later post.

You’re a Better Parent Than an iPad

Image courtesy of Nan Chiau Primary SchoolNobody should ever doubt this fact. You need to understand that you have no business comparing yourself to a machine. You are the one in control, not the machine, nor your child. That being said, there is definitely a balance in the force that needs to be maintained; using a computing device just to placate your child while you run your errands or take a nap pushes you further into the dark side (remember, Darth Vader was never there for Luke all those years before Luke actually found out the black helmet dude was his father), while using a computing device with your child opens the path of the Jedi to both you and your young padawan.

More importantly, never simply give in to your child’s whims and fancies with the device; you should be the one determining when, where and how your child gets to use the device. It not only prevents the device from taking over your child’s free time (and subsequently, life), it creates a really huge opportunity to exercise your parenting chops.

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