Techno-guilt. Do you suffer from it? I do. Sometimes I feel guilty about allowing my son to use the iPad (or watch TV). Yep, even as a children’s technology researcher I am sometimes plagued by this affliction. And I know I shouldn’t feel guilty but somehow I have bought into this guilt thing.
I recently talked about ‘techno-shaming’. This is a new phenomenon I have witnessed and have personally experienced as a parent in recent weeks. This is the guilt that you may experience when you allow your child to use technology in a public space.
It is the guilt you encounter when you discuss how your child uses video games [Side note– video games are not all bad. In fact we know that gaming is a great way for children to learn if the content is appropriate].
It is the rolling eyes from a lady when you hand over your smartphone to your toddler who is on the verge of a meltdown at the doctor’s surgery. [Side note– we have some early research that tells us that interactive media use is more beneficial for toddlers than passive media use.]
Or it’s the comment such as, ”There’s no way I will let my child play Minecraft. That’s terrible. You shouldn’t let your son use it. It’s no good.” [Side note– Minecraft can certainly be addictive BUT it can also enhance a range of skills including problem solving and visual perception skills. So it isn’t all bad.]
These technologies aren’t going to disappear. So rather than feeling guilty about allowing our children to use them we need to find healthy and appropriate ways for their use.
So how can we, as parents, let go of this techno-guilt AND still let children use technology in healthy ways?
We know that when children use technology intentionally their learning and development can be enhanced (not stifled). So you can all breathe a collective sigh of relief.
You are not harming your child if they watch a little TV or play a video game or use the iPad every now and then (so long as you pick the right content and use it at the right time and for the right duration).
A simple way that I have tried to shake off the guilt is asking myself the question:
“Is my child using technology mindlessly or mindfully?”
Is the iPad being used as a pacifier or baby-sitter all of the time? [Please note, I am a real Mum and admit that sometimes dinner wouldn’t get cooked if I didn’t plonk Mr 3.5 years in front of the TV. Do I do it all the time? No, but there are some days when I have to, or we would never eat a home-cooked meal. There are some days when playing in his toy room is not appealing, or playing in his cubby is not enticing. But the TV is not our default tool.]
So what does it mean to use technology in a mindful way?
It means that your child uses apps that have been specifically designed for children. For example, apps such as Motion Math Hungry Guppy, Tiny Robot Maker and My Story Book Maker have all been designed according to the developmental needs of young children. They are age appropriate and educational. This is mindful technology use.
It means allowing your child to watch well-produced TV shows such as Sesame Street, Dora and Play School. They have been specifically designed with the end user (child) in mind. These are all examples of mindful technology use.
It means that you deliberately plan to use technology with your child (not quickly revert to it to pacify or distract, although that sometimes works). For example, you might have a media plan and your children know that the iPad can be used at a set time of the day or for a specific amount of time.
It means using book apps. Children are usually actively engaged in the reading process. They usually have to think and engage with what is taking place on screen (especially if you are there asking them questions). And we all want children to become avid readers. This is mindful technology use.
What is mindless technology use?
It is when you revert to technology to always pacify your child [Disclaimer– I have certainly passed over my iPhone when sitting in traffic and it worked a treat. We had already played ‘Eye Spy’, sung ‘Row-Row- Row Your Boat’ and played rhyming words. Nothing was working. But my iPhone sure did.]
It is the TV left turned on in the background when no one is watching it? Background TV can interrupt children’s play patterns.
It is allowing your child to watch inappropriate TV content. For example, showing young babies TV shows with a storyline is mindless use of technology. Why? Because we know that generally children cannot understand narratives (basic story structure) until around 18 months of age. We also know that fast-paced cartoons are mindless use of technology for young children. A US study* found that 4 year-olds’ attention and problem solving skills were compromised if they watched the fast-paced Squarebob Spongepants. Why? Young children need very slow-paced, linear and repetitive TV programs. [This is why Dora says the same thing over and over and over…]
It is giving your child ‘digital worksheet’ apps. There are many (many, many) apps that are a mindless use of technology. Apps that simply require children to tap on a ‘right’ answer are often mindless. They don’t really require much brain-power to interact with the app. Tap and guess. Tap and guess. Instead, mindful apps encourage young children to think, problem solve, create content and interact with their peers.
I’d love to hear in the comments below about how your children use technology in mindful ways. Does thinking about mindful technology use ease your techno-guilt, or do you still feel guilty?
*This was a small-scale study with only 60 participants. It was reported in Pediatrics Journal.