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Michael M. Osit, Ed.D. Headshot

Children and Technology: If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

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Recently, someone sent me a cute YouTube video of what looks to be about a 10-month-old playing with an iPad. The clip is worth taking a look at, so I have provided it for you here. The little girl is shown touching the screen to open Apps and sliding her hand along the screen to change the Apps page. She obviously has seen someone perform these acts on the iPad screen and enjoyed the fact that she could have some effect on this mysterious screen. The next few scenes in the video show the same infant girl picking up a magazine and touching it in an effort to "open" an App. She tries this several times, of course, to no avail. She then slides her hand across the magazine page trying to make the "Apps" move to the next screen. To this little girl, who only knows a world filled with technology, a magazine is simply an iPad that just doesn't work.

A few days later, I received the final print copy of my Newsweek subscription in the mail. This traditional icon of print media cataloguing the week's events has now gone completely digital, only delivering the publication via email, to smart phones and tablets. I felt a little sad as I have offered this magazine to my patients in my waiting room for over 30 years. I have no use for a digital magazine in my waiting room, so I simply passed my subscription on to my son's email address, who will gladly read it digitally.

Technology continues to change the world, whether we like it or not and whether we want it to or not. Adults need to adjust to these changes, keeping pace with technological advancements for many reasons. Navigating through the adult world (banking, shopping, etc.) is one important reason to stay in the tech loop. If you parent or work with children, it is essential to know technology in order to have a successful relationship with virtually any age child.

As for our youth, like the 10-month-old in the video, it is the only world they know. Toy manufacturers are producing tech toys geared to children even in the toddler years. They have toy cell phones, simplistic computers and bouncy horses that wirelessly interact with the television screen, helping them learn many Kindergarten readiness skills and basic reading and math skills. They are starting very, very young with interactive screens and high resolution graphics as forms of play and learning. It behooves parents and educators to adapt to their expectations as they continue to emerge into latency and adolescent developmental stages. We need to use technology as a medium for learning. Otherwise, kids will be bored and less engaged in the learning process. I once had a very bright, tech-savvy 16-year-old say to me, "Dr. Osit, when I go to school, I have to power down." What he meant was, that he found the classes so boring that he had to adjust his brain to a slower input rate so that he could learn the material. His brain, like the brain of today's infants and children, is being trained and programmed for stimulation via screen input.

Today's youth spends too much time in front of screens and parents certainly need to set better limits with video game play, computer and Internet use, social media time and cell phone use. They are all part of the child's world, even from infancy. It is what they look for and expect. It is not realistic or even prudent to insulate them from technology. That would handicap them educationally and socially. But if we can guide their use of these tech toys and vehicles facilitating social life in an educational manner, we will be meeting our kids half way. I don't see that we have a choice.