Is Technology Helping or Hurting this Generation?

Today, technology is available to most U.S. children, both at school and at home. Mobile devices, chrome books, laptops, desktops, and smart phones make it easy for kids to access technology anytime, anywhere. This generation of America’s children is the first to grow up in a world where the computing power that connects the globe fits in the palm of a hand. Because of the pervasiveness of technology in virtually every aspect of modern day life, the question most often asked, is technology helping or hurting this generation?

There are many terrific aspects to growing up in today’s digital age.

Children who require extra help on subjects, from math to science to foreign language, can easily access online tutorials day or night, without the need to pay a tutor or drive to a specialist for extra help. Children and adults alike can access YouTube videos or Ted Talks to find information on demand. This easy access creates an opportunity to master new skills and conquer challenging course materials in ways that were not available to previous generations. Technology, used this way, makes learning accessible.

For parents and children who opt out of public and private education in favor of home-schooling, technology has made the virtual classroom experience far  superior to any home-schooling experience that came before. The ability to successfully and easily teach k-12 curriculum enables school choice with ease for any parent or child embracing the new digital education paradigm.

Book-based research of yesteryear has been replaced by web-based research.  Today’s digital version is far more efficient and time effective, offering students the ability to research virtually any topic, in any language, from anywhere. Once the research has been completed, children have access to professional tools to illustrate, produce, and publish their reports with color, graphics, and even animation.  These options add both complexity and interest to the research and presentation school work previous generations bemoaned. In addition to enhancing presentations, technology gives children an opportunity to learn skills they might come to rely on in academic or job settings.

GPS and cell phone technology give children the ability to find directions quickly and easily, to contact parents from anywhere, and/or to be physically tracked by caregivers. As a result, children are often allowed more independence and given  a wider berth to visit new places or experience new challenges. Sometimes, however, these opportunities for independence turn bad when a cell phone battery dies and a child cannot answer a parent’s text or respond to a caregiver’s call.

Social media is useful for children who are part of sports teams or clubs to communicate as a group about practice times and team updates. But social media can also be a forum for bullying and exclusion, along with illicit requests or inappropriate postings, images, and content.

The rationale that children don’t learn to drive a car until they reach a certain age and prove to be responsible should extend to mobile devices, cell phones, social media, and many apps. Cell phones and social media are important tools in today’s digital age, but can also be inherently dangerous. Children need to have “rules of the road” for their cell phone and social media use to keep them safe and to keep them from breaking the law.

Here are some tips and guidelines to keep in mind: Children should refrain from using their full names, addresses, phone numbers, or other identifying information on any public boards, especially when accompanied by photos.  Children should be wary of posting photos indicating where they are located.  Children should never communicate with strangers via social media or public posting boards to meet them or provide them with any personal information. When choosing a user name, children should refrain from using a handle that includes their real name or the street where they live.

Online bullying is a criminal offense. Threatening violent action or suggesting any kind of destructive or violent behavior on social media can be tracked, reported to local authorities, and could also result in being arrested, tried, and/or convicted.  Witnessing unlawful acts and posting images or video of those actions to social media are considered acts of collusion.  Children should also be careful not to “lend” their cell phones to others who might use them to make phone calls or take photos that could be potentially harmful or damning. There are frequent cases of children who are accused of posting items they know nothing about to social media…often the result of leaving a cell phone on the cafeteria table to grab a snack while classmates and friends post comments or photos in mere seconds.

Most parents are practical and do not want to deny their children access to cell phones, because as common as cell phones are, they have become, for all intents and purposes, a “necessity” for many children. Therefore, it is important for parents to make sure their children are as prepared as possible to use their phones, social media, and applications, both intelligently and responsibly.

Gaming has come a long way from Pong or Donkey Kong. Today’s children spend more time than ever playing video games on computers and hand-held devices.  While previous generations read a book, practiced a musical instrument, and ran around the neighborhood until dusk, today’s children spend countless hours in front of a screen playing games.  To understand the potential eye damage from too much screen time, this article offers some insight:

Some games are educational, entertaining, and make learning math facts or a foreign language fun. Many games can be played solo or in “virtual” teams, which adds socialization and team-building to the gaming experience.  However, some games include violent or disturbing images and language, so parents should monitor what their children are playing, and ensure that the content and images their children access are age appropriate. One web site that offers some guidance is:

One easy way to keep track of what children access on the internet is to keep technology out in the open, in a place where everyone in the house can view online behavior. A great way to minimize excess screen to is to use timers to limit recreational time on the computer.

Parents are the best role models for their children’s digital behavior. Turning off all technology at meal time, dragging out a board game on “family” nights, and creating a location to “turn in” cell phones and mobile devices every day at a certain time to protect children’s sleep habits and nighttime routines are practical ways to safeguard against technology overload.

Studies have shown that this generation is less adept at dating and verbal social interactions than prior generations.

Texting and instant messaging have replaced  face-to-face and telephone conversations of yesteryear. Positive praise and encouragement once offered by parents has been replaced with “likes” by peers and strangers, sometimes motivating children who lack enough attention at home to seek approval through social media posts.

Look for signs of withdrawal or anti-social behavior as a result of too much screen time.  Talk to your children and take corrective action to ensure children enjoy the positive influence technology can bring to their lives. Technology is constantly changing, and its evolution is expected. In numerous ways, technology helps this generation  become smarter, faster, and more productive. Yet along with the positive power of technology in everyone’s hands and in everyone’s lives, there is also risk and there are sometimes unintended consequences.

Although non-verbal communication can be a by-product of technology, perhaps parents should consider the potential risks of our ever-consuming hunger for technology reason enough to open lines of communication. Talk to your children about how to ensure technology is used effectively so your children can maximize its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls. Just as cars enabled access and opportunity to visit and experience new places, technology enables this generation access to the opportunity to learn, communicate, create, and connect in dynamic ways, but it is everyone’s responsibility, including our children’s, to use technology responsibly.

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