Wednesday, February 28, 2018

How Young is Too Young for Technology?

This past weekend, I got a text message from my mother that I was a little surprised by.  The message asked if my 6-year-old daughter, Elsa, knew how to text.  My immediate response was, "I think so."  While I have never seen my daughter text anybody, I was certain that she knew how.  I gave my phone to her, telling her that her Mimi wanted to talk to her by text.  Over the course of the next 15 minutes, I watched in utter awe as my "little girl" got to talk to her Mimi in a way that she never had before.

Look at that sweet little girl, who's not so
little anymore... 
I'm going to take a moment to brag about Elsa here.  My little girl is absolutely brilliant.  She was speaking full sentences at a year and a half.  She knew her ABCs, reciting them and recognizing them before she was 3.  Now, she is identifying 5th-grade sight words and reading chapter books that are considered 4th-grade level AS A KINDERGARTNER.  On top of that, her math skills are excellent, she has taken an interest in science, and she does a decent job with her coding board game that she got for Christmas.

Like I mentioned, I had never seen Elsa text before.  I had a good feeling that she would be able to, she can handle an iPad better than many adults that I have met, and coupled with her reading skills, I figured it wouldn't be hard for her to fire off a few texts to my mother.  Outside of asking me how to spell a couple of the things she was trying to say (when asked what she had been doing all day, my daughter wanted to reply, "just lounging around"), she did a very good job, even throwing in a couple of emojis, something that I don't even do.  Then Elsa asked me if I could help her make a Bitmoji.  I decided that I would, but I would set it up on one of my email addresses, so after a few minutes of hammering out the details, my little girl now has her own Bitmoji to share with the world!  I'm not sure how often she will use it when texting with family, as using the Bitmoji on the Apple keyboard tends to be more difficult than using standard emojis.
My 6-year-old's Bitmoji! And she has great taste in an outfit!

So over the course of the past couple of days, it got me thinking:  is there an age where it is too young to get kids going on technology?  In my opinion, the short answer is absolutely not.  This is the world that our kids live in, why not get them going on things as early as possible to better prepare them.  However, this does not come without its downfalls, some of which I can attest to from experience.

Then there is this handsome devil...
Kids in my children's generation are practically born with a device in their hands.  My daughter has been doing different things on an iPad for several years, as is my nearly 3-year-old son.  In fact, my son, Reed, is convinced at times that all screens are touchscreen and can be swiped so you can see him trying to swipe the television.  Another great one is when he takes the Amazon Fire remote and tries to tell it to turn on Peppa Pig or Hulk (his absolute favorite Marvel hero right now).  He also can operate an iPad, watching videos on YouTube Kids and playing some simple games.  He, like his sister, has also learned his ABCs very quickly, can identify the letters, spell his name, and other things that I couldn't imagine a 2-year-old being able to do.

However, while this is great and I am glad that my children are becoming technologically enthusiastic and literate, I also don't want them to become dependant on such devices.  My wife and I very rarely allow them to use devices while we are in public.  They do not get an iPad while we are grocery shopping or sitting at a restaurant.  The only exception is if we are at a restaurant with a group of people trying to watch a Golden Knights game and we are sitting for a long period of time.  Then, and only then, will be let the kids watch some videos on YouTube or play games, for the sake of keeping their busy little selves occupied contently for a bit instead of asking young children to behave for several hours on end.  Even though we limit their screen time, they still exhibit signs at times of screen addiction.  Both kids will get upset and sometimes throw fits if they are told that they cannot have their devices or if they are taken away after a set amount of time.

While discussing this post's idea with a professional colleague, she and I were on the same wavelength.  However, she also pointed out that there can be too much mindless use of technology that a child can be too young for.  Examples that she provided were video viewing/consuming versus creation, communicating versus "mindless button pushing" (the adult equivalent: an hour an a half of Facebook).  She stated that she is 100% behind getting young ones on board with tech, but to remember the difference between active screentime and passive screen time. 

The bottom line is this: It is important that we teach kids about using technology at early ages, there is no "too young" for tech.  But there is more to teaching tech than just putting a device in their hands.  Digital citizenship is more important than showing them how to navigate the device.  Modeling solid digital citizenship and outlining the consequences of actions on the Internet is core to teaching digital citizenship.  Once a foundation is set and the device is in a kid's hands, reiterating good digital citizenship, as well as showing kids how to use technology for learning, will set kids out on the right path to a bright future.

Are you stuck on some ideas on how to teach young students using technology?  I highly recommend checking out #gafe4littles and #k2cantoo on Twitter, as well as Christine Pinto and Susan Stewart, two great educators at the heart of those hashtags.  Don't be afraid of getting the young ones going, in fact, embrace it!

Until next time...