Tech or Basics: Should We Teach Kids More About Digital Media?
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Parents and educators have the expectation that kids know and understand how to learn. But as with most things, the expectations are not always being met—at least not yet.
A couple of recent studies are prompting parents and educators to start talking about “how best to learn” and thinking about how we choose content and how to integrate that learning into a child’s school day and play experience.
There has been growing anxiety about the increasing spending on kids’ digital media and entertainment. Now comes a realization that we need to start thinking about what’s more important—teaching and learning with children, or simply exposing kids to the internet and digital media?
Digital as the Choices
Our first question is whether kids should be exposed to digital media—on their phones, computers, and on TV.
“It is important for children to learn that getting things from the internet is different from getting things through adults—that it is different from buying from a store or ordering it from a website. Once children understand how digital media works, they will be less scared of it and be more savvy in how to be safe,” says Debra Hartman, chief executive officer of InThis Together, a digital learning center that holds small-group professional development workshops for teachers and parents.
The assumption that there’s no safe place in the digital world just doesn’t seem to be borne out by the research. For every recent uproar about privacy or children’s use of those devices, there’s a study that provides yet another silver lining.
Some recent research shows that more than two-thirds of kids under the age of 16 were on Facebook and other social media sites—despite the fact that they have a legally protected right to privacy. The study also showed that kids used these sites to connect with peers, but also more interestingly to learn about different cultures and to find help.
“We really do not know how digital media will affect kids,” says Alan Cole, professor of health education at Stony Brook University, who conducted the study. “Certainly, there are some negative outcomes, but we cannot disregard the opportunities of social media. For all the noise about kids using digital media for addictive behavior, there are also some bright spots.”
Our second question is: When should we decide whether the benefits of social media outweigh the risks?
Hartman, for example, was asked whether parents should restrict kids’ technology access or switch their children to a device like an iPhone.
“My preference is for parents to create a diverse digital learning environment for kids, but not to be overly restrictive,” she says.
It’s a similar question often posed to parents of children who are mobile device users—such as those who choose to use their smartphones, tablets, or other devices in addition to laptops and computers in school. Parents must balance their children’s access to technology with the kids’ need for nurturing time with their peers.
We have some studies now that show that kids who are allowed to use mobile devices during the school day show significantly more benefit in concentration than kids who have to use a laptop or desktop. Kids who use smartphones are able to connect with other kids who are excited about school and who are exploring their vocabularies and reading ahead.
The question is how do we learn more about kids’ tech-connected future so we can decide how to teach and encourage them to learn?
“We should be taking advantage of all technology, not just the ones we choose to spend our money on. By researching best practices and scanning the web, we can avoid misspent efforts and information gaps,” says Hartman.