Again with the technology

Here’s the other thing about reserving judgment when it comes to kids’ technology use: it makes them more available for input about it.  If all they hear is “Put that thing down,” or “All you ever do is stare at that thing,” or “Only ___ minutes and then you’re done,” the dynamic is limited to compliance and resistance.  They can either obey us or fight us (and most likely get devious about sneaking time when we’ve told them the screens are off limits, regardless of whether they choose obey or fight).

If instead the language sounds more like this: “I’d like to talk with you about your iPod.  I don’t always understand how important some things are to you because we didn’t have them when I was a kid.  I know it’s easy for adults to just tell kids what to do without thinking about it. I’m trying not to do that with you.  But there are some things that I’m concerned about that I’d like for us to talk about.”

That kind of language is an opening for conversation and interaction, one that makes it possible to move out of the compliance vs. resistance zone.  It doesn’t mean the child will throw down her iPod and tell you she’s been dying for you to bring it up and from now on she’ll only use it on alternate Tuesdays. It’s just a first step.  The longer we’ve been stuck in a comply or resist dynamic with a child, or the more pronounced the dynamic is, the longer the journey out.  But that first step goes a long way.  It’s that step that makes it possible for things to begin to shift.  And especially if we want kids to figure out what kind of a role they want technology to play in their lives once they’re no longer in our care and charge, we’ll be wise to take it on.

Kids and their technology

We think that the way we’re used to doing things must be the way things should be done.  We don’t tend to think “Is it possible that there might be some benefit or use to what kids are doing that we never did?”

I’m reading Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age.  It’s about how technology makes use of human talent and generosity in ways that haven’t been possible in the past.  It’s a pretty significant departure from the technology-is-ruining-us, especially-the-kids rhetoric.  Here’s an interesting passage, which reminded me of the piece I linked to a few weeks ago about how kids are reading more than before, even while we agonize about the screen time:

“…young populations with access to fast, interactive media are shifting their behavior away from media that presupposes pure consumption.  Even when they watch video online, seemingly pure analog to TV, they have opportunities to comment on the material, to share it with their friends, to label, rate, or rank it, and of course, to discuss it with other viewers around the world… Even when they are engaged in watching TV, in other words, many members of the networked population are engaged with one another, and this engagement correlates with behaviors other than passive consumption.”

And a few pages later:

“It’s also easy to assume that the world as it currently exists represents some sort of ideal expression of society, and that all deviations from this sacred tradition are both shocking and bad.”

It’s this assumption that has us tend to jump to conclusions about kids’ technology use.  We think that the way we’re used to doing things must be the way things should be done.  We don’t tend to think “Is it possible that there might be some benefit or use to what kids are doing that we never did?”  Shirky’s suggesting that we look a little more closely.  This is not to say that just by virtue of being looked at more closely what kids are up to with their technology will seem more worthwhile.  It’s only to say that we don’t have the foggiest notion what kids do and don’t get out of what they’re doing.  It isn’t necessarily bad for them just because we didn’t have it when we were young.  And as Shirky suggests, it’s possible that it’s leading us to a place of even more social engagement, connection, and potential contribution than was possible when we were growing up.  Maybe more than has ever been possible.

If you’re interested in more on this topic, I highly recommend the book.  It’s unusual in that the thinking is dense, deep, innovative, but the writing makes it very accessible. You can also get a taste for the content from Shirky’s TED talk on the topic.

Screen time

Many kids often opt for screen time, when left to their own devices.  (No pun intended, really.)  The adult reaction is predictable – we react the way adults usually react when kids do things we don’t want them to.  We get right to work on getting them to stop doing it, on our terms.  “Limit screen time!” cry out the doctors and teachers and various experts.  And yet kids’ average screen time keeps increasing. Continue reading