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Len Filppu Headshot

Technology and Kids: Moving Them From Consumers to Creators

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Like just about every parent I know, I have some concerns about kids and technology, whether it's the time sinkholes and lurking dangers of social media, the addictive nature of video gaming, the lack of physical exercise, or even the cost and shelf life of increasingly sophisticated electronic devices. But living in Silicon Valley instilled in me a more nonchalant attitude toward children's screen time.

Until my nightmare.

I awoke in a chilled sweat from a horrific dream of hoards of elementary and middle school kids buried in Facebook and Twitter organizing their own Arab Spring-type flash mobs. High on soft drinks, candy, and lack of sleep, this multitude of overweight tweens plodded through the streets chanting for online purchases of x-rated video games, pizza deliveries, Yugioh cards, and iProduct futures. Carrying an effigy of Zelda, their glazed zombie eyes squinted in the daylight, their fingers clutched smartphones and PS3 consoles in carpal tunnel death grips, thumbs twitching uncontrollably in frantic searches for keys to press. Out of their minds, out of breath, and out of our reach, they marched forward, inexorably, like technology itself.

Startled by my twisted glimpse of this rave new world, when the inaugural Palo Alto International Film Festival came to town and offered movie making workshops for youngsters aged 6 - 15, I decided to investigate what was going on with kids and technology.

"We want to move kids from being technology consumers to creators," said Randy Phelps, an Apple company employee who led the iPad2-based movie making workshops. "Video is the communication medium of today," he went on, "and the Internet, social media, and easy-to-use technology is the infrastructure that makes it all possible."

I watched as 20 kids in the movie making class received quick instructions on how to use their camera devices, and off they went, wandering through the rooms and adjacent outdoor courtyards, capturing images, voicing narration, directing action, and shooting scenes they'd later edit themselves into their own short movies.

These kids were not the dazed, robotic creatures from my feverish nightmare. They were fully engaged, having fun, fearlessly creating movies.

Promising, I thought, while asking Phelps what steps parents can take to help move their children from being technology consumers to creators. He gave the following advice.

1. Parents should model appropriate behavior. Push yourselves away from the computer, use technology creatively, and don't just plant yourselves in the front of the computer or television screen.

2. Guide your children to be around other creative people. Help them join school clubs or take classes that challenge and enhance creativity. When kids see how easy it is to shoot a film and upload it to YouTube, they naturally want to get into the act. They transition effortlessly from consumption to creation.

3. Take the fear out of failure. Adults, especially parents, can be overly judgmental, thwarting the blossoming creativity of their offspring. Get out of the way. Let kids make their own creative decisions, make their own mistakes, and learn from them. In fact, said Phelps, moderate video gaming can actually be useful. Video games teach kids about game theory. Valuable information about how to succeed is learned through failure, so video games help take the fear out of failing and reward those who keep trying.

This concept of moving our kids from technology consumers to creators makes sense to me. Think I'll try to implement some version of the three steps here at home... and let my kids create monsters for their movies, rather than star as ones in my nightmares.