RAISING CHILDREN

IN A TECH SOCIETY

By Melissa Williams
The Palm Pilot hit the market twenty years ago in 1996. That was also the year my grandfather passed away. I was thirteen years old. To this day, I have a recurring dream about him coming back. It would be interesting to imagine that if he did, in fact, come back for a day, what he would say to the person on the elevator wearing Google glasses. More than likely he would make a joke about Geordi from Star Trek.

For generations, we have been preparing for this technology revolution. The signs were there from the Jetsons’ Skype capabilities to a Star Wars version of a social robot, now in the form of the Jibo prototype. Just think about the very first toy you received in childhood with moving parts. Who or what was your first Buzz Lightyear? I’ll never forget the day my dad brought home our very first Nintendo, mainly so he could play it. Even though technology hyper-exaggerates real-time experiences, creating a false reality, the experience of the technology journey has been one hundred percent real and responsible for quite a few fond memories.

Science and technology are paving the way of the future. The most interesting piece of this journey has been the discoveries regarding brain development. Scientists are fascinated to find the brain evolving and building new connections at a rapid speed due to daily technology use. However, with all of the excitement comes areas of concern, especially for parents raising what Dr. Gary Small in his book, iBrain, would call Digital Natives: an entire generation of young people who have never known a world without the Internet or technology.

In President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, he stated, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It’s that fear of what we don’t understand that may concern many as to where this technology boom will take us and our youth. Being a parent or mentor today is harder than it has ever been before. With so much information at our fingertips, society can be easily misinformed, especially our eager and impressionable minds of the future. Balancing the old with the new instead of replacing one activity for another will be key as we embrace the ever-changing world.
WHAT ARE THE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TECHNOLOGY USE WITH CHILDREN?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that schoolaged children limit their use of entertainment technology to no more than two hours a day. It’s important to remember that not all technology is the same. Educational television programs are very beneficial to children two and older. Educational and interactive games provide useful learning experiences to schoolaged children as well. Unlike sedentary television use, there is still not enough scientific evidence to determine whether or not
apps and technology games are better or worse than the activities they are starting to replace. The key is to balance their use with activities that increase a child’s overall real life experience. Running, jumping, playing and creating are important for brain and body development.

ARE VIDEO AND COMPUTER GAMES BAD FOR CHILDREN?

Putting a label on any kind of technology is not beneficial in the long run. We have to remember many of these electronic games are similar to the games we played as kids using boards. However, the boards and pieces are now embedded into a screen. Just as we were fascinated by toys with moving parts, kids today have the same reaction to updated technology. Of course, not all technology is created equal. If a child is engaging in violent video games or spending eight hours a day with a screen, the issue is much more complicated than the game itself. The real issue arises when a child’s real-time activities and unstructured play is being completely replaced by these electronics. Addictive patterns must be stopped at an early age to balance emotional regulation and avoid long-term attention problems. For more information and recommendations, the American Academy of Pediatrics is a very useful resource for parents and educators.

WHAT ARE THE BEST ACTIVITIES TO DO WITH CHILDREN TO INCREASE EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE AND CRITICAL THINKING?

It’s important for children, starting at a very early age, to have life experiences that occur in a realistic time frame. Interestingly enough, many of the apps, especially for toddlers, allow for slower interaction as opposed to fast-paced video and computer games. However, during the first two years of life, it is crucial that babies experience all kinds of stimuli: using building blocks, entertaining themselves with objects, and sitting in a parent’s lap reading a book are all more beneficial for language development and independence than sitting in front of any type of program on TV. Reading aloud to kids is crucial for brain development and should be continued even after they can read on their own. Encouraging children to journal and write in notebooks will strengthen their sense of accomplishment and independence.

WHAT IF I CAN’T GET MY CHILD TO READ?

We have all heard people say not all children learn the same way. Reading is a prime example of this notion. Many children still enjoy, and prefer, the feel, smell, and experience of reading a physical book. Other children need interactive stimulation, or a reward or incentive system to stay interested for longer periods of time. Introducing apps to your child like Epic, an unlimited online library of children’s books for all ages, or BookWhiz, allowing kids to scan their physical books and track their reading progress, have done wonders for parents of reluctant readers. As long as you can get them reading, the device is irrelevant.

WHAT ARE SOME FUN WRITING ACTIVITIES I CAN DO WITH MY CHILD?

Writing is such a beneficial skill to encourage early on in childhood. Writing, in combination with reading, opens the door to a child’s imagination and ability to create, and therefore builds foundational self-esteem. Writing serves as a useful outlet when a child is feeling distressed and encourages growth and self-identification. Every child should have a brainstorming notebook at home. At the iWRITE Literacy Organization, it is our goal to make sure children in Houston have access to writing materials. The journal is a tool that can be taken everywhere the child goes, encouraging awareness of their daily surroundings. At iWRITE, we encourage kids to “people watch” and find things to write about outside of the classroom. Journals can be used to write songs, poems, or just vent about the day. The journal also provides the opportunity to write letters back and forth to a friend or family member. Children must be provided with outlets to express their feelings and find their voice.

For more information about writing contests and activities, visit iWRITE.org. As we embrace the new ways of creativity, it is important to remember the creative minds who got us to this place. In Neil Postman’s book, The Disappearance of Childhood, he said, “Children are the living message we send to a time we will not see.” It is our job to make sure our future generation has been given the tools to embrace their own creative selves and flourish.

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Melissa Williams is a children’s author, a public speaker, and the founder of the iWRITE Literacy Organization. She has a master’s degree in professional counseling. All of her writing programs focus heavily on character development as she teaches the psychology behind getting in the character’s shoes and on the reader’s level. Melissa’s first chapter book series, Iggy the Iguana, was released in 2009 with the Turtle Town chapter books and Little Miss Molly picture books soon following. Melissa spends the year speaking at schools and conferences and giving hands-on insight into the writing and publishing process during her creative writing presentations. After speaking at over two hundred schools across Texas and California, she expanded her instruction to share specific creative techniques with educators. Melissa is a regular guest on FOX and ABC news, speaking on the need to keep reading, writing, and creativity inside the home and classroom while balancing electronic usage. Her literacy organization has published over 350 kid authors and illustrators across the nation and hosts the annual I Write Short Stories by Kids for Kids Book Signing. During her free time, Melissa can be found traveling the world studying different cultures for her next children’s book. She is currently working on two projects scheduled for release in the summer of 2016.

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