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Kids 3.0: How to Raise Healthy Children in a Tech World

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I chose the metaphor of computer software with its evolving versions because it seemed to be relevant to children's development in so many ways. Because my ideas about the role of technology in our lives is not only about the meeting of children and technology, but also what seems like their integration into the world, the metaphor seemed apt. I also saw significant parallels between children's development and the development of software.

The latest versions of software are intended to be new and improved with better functionality and fewer glitches and bugs. The goal seemed the same for new "versions" of children as they develop. In fact, a key goal for me is to ensure that children's immersion in this new technology results in their being new and improved rather than being "buggy" or, even worse, having a "virus" that cripples them. Unfortunately, there a is a growing body of research indicating that the latter may be occurring. Parents have perhaps the most essential role in whether children's entry into cyberspace results in a version "upgrade" or software that "crashes."

That's not to say that I extend this metaphor too far by suggesting that I view children as unfeeling, calculating little bundles of "code." To the contrary, what makes children so receptive to the wonders that this new technology has to offer and susceptible to potential harm that it might cause is that they are vulnerable beings who are open to so many different kinds of inputs.

The evolution of the Web from version 1.0 to its yet-to-be-released version 3.0 has striking parallels to the development of children. Web 1.0 tended to be static and one-dimensional in its flow of information. It typically had a simple design and rudimentary functionality. Web 1.0 was also controlled by the relatively few who had the ability to create and provide content. Similarly, babies, that is to say, Kids 1.0, have limited ability to interact and most of the information flows from the external world to the child. Plus, they are relatively simple with little or no "functionality"; they can't walk, talk, or take care of themselves. Like Web 1.0, parents had primary control over what their young children experience.

Web 2.0 is characterized by greater user participation and freedom, idea creation, collaboration and democratization of content. Importantly, Web 2.0 became a social force in which people could interact directly. It also opened the door to less positive influences, such as spammers and pornography, who could use the openness of the Web for nefarious and unhealthy purposes. In a similar vein, the toddler and pre-school years are highlighted by increased ability to be active participants in life's activities, have a say in their own lives, and develop more complex relationships. As they are exposed more to the outside world, young children are also vulnerable to less constructive influences from those beyond their immediate families.

Finally, Web 3.0 which, by the way, doesn't yet exist, will offer users total and continuous connectivity, with constant access to information, complete interactivity, immediate and widespread social networking and a convergence between the "real" and the cyber worlds. By the same token, as children enter elementary school, they experience a growing convergence between their internal world and the larger world of information, relationships and feedback, in which their identities will become inextricably linked to and woven into the greater social fabric.

To quote Reed Hastings, the founder and CEO of Netflix, the online film distribution company, "Web 1.0 was dial-up, 50K average bandwidth, Web 2.0 is an average 1 megabit of bandwidth and Web 3.0 will be 10 megabits of bandwidth all the time, which will be the full video Web, and that will feel like Web 3.0." As children develop, they too gain greater "bandwidth," the ability to process information of greater complexity with increased speed. All of these changes that accrue through the evolution of the Web will have a profound impact, both positive and negative, on the development of your children.

By the way, there is already talk of Web 4.0 which will have, I am quite sure, new, unforeseen, and even more challenging influences on how children develop. We as parents will have our hands full just dealing with the impending release of Web 3.0 so, as the saying goes, let's cross that bridge when we come to it.

Who are Kids 3.0?

There are certain qualities that children must develop to take control of the connected world in which they are growing up. In fact, these attributes aren't really any different than those needed to develop into the sorts of children we would want to raise in past generations. The difference is that these very same qualities are most threatened by many of the less-than-positive and unintended side effects of new technology and, as a result, more difficult for parents to develop in children.

The sad irony is that many parents expose their children to technology early and often in the belief that it will create the latest and best version of children, namely, Kids 3.0, and better prepare them for success in the digital world. In reality, they are actually doing their children a disservice by causing their brains to become wired and their minds to become programmed in ways that actually limit them in both the digital and corporeal worlds.

Think about the kind of person you want your children to become. What values, attitudes and skills will they need for this next "version" of life. Then look at the world in which they are growing up and ask yourself whether this world supports or interferes with the development of that person.

In creating Kids 3.0, I focus on six qualities that have always been essential to children's development and are perhaps even more important in this new world dominated by technology: values, self-identity, thinking, relationships, health and life. Of course, there are other attributes that are important for children's healthy development, but I chose these six because they seem to me to be most vulnerable to the "dark side" of technology.

Protect and Prepare

You can't stop technology and you can't readily decouple your children (or yourself) from the "matrix," nor would you want to on both counts. All you can do is make informed decisions and take appropriate action at the point at which technology converges with your children's world.

With this perspective in mind, my writing about this nexus of technology and child development has several goals. First, to motivate and educate you to protect your children from the toxic aspects of technology until they have the maturity and capabilities to use the wonderful things that it has to offer while avoiding its many pitfalls. You establish boundaries to ensure your children's physical well-being because the risks of, for example, their running into the street, are real and the consequences are immediate and potentially tragic to their physical health. You should apply the same reasoning to when your children are at risk of, metaphorically speaking, running into the streets of technology, because the possible harm, though less immediate, is also no less significant. As a consequence, you must set appropriate limits on your children's experiences with this crazy new world to protect their psychological, emotional, intellectual and social well-being. Second, you need to instill in your children the values, attitudes, knowledge, and skills to prepare your children to enter a world that will continue to be dominated by technological change.

This post is excerpted from Dr. Jim Taylor's new parenting book, Raising Generation Tech: Preparing Your Children for a Media-fueled World.