Want to give up the twinges of guilt you feel when you hand over your smartphone, or flick on the TV for your little one?
I’m going to show you how with one tip. The tip’s simple and effective. And best of all, it usually takes less than one minute to do (in most instances). The simplicity of this tip will stun you. But rest assured, it’s effective and grounded in a significant body of psychological research.
This tip twill increase the chance that your child will learn with technology (yes, they can and do actually benefit from screens. It’s not all doom and gloom.). So you can ditch your guilt because you’ll have increased the chances that they’ll actually learn from technology (aghhh, that feels better doesn’t it?).
It’s called “priming”. “Cognitive priming” (if you want to sound really fancy).
Before you switch on the TV, or power up your laptop or hand over your tablet, simply ask your child to predict what’s going to happen on the screen. Try to direct their attention to what they might see on the screen (content, concepts or language that might be presented).
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Priming sets the brain up to know what it should focus on.
It literally primes (preps) the brain to know what to look for in the proceeding task. It’s the process of intentionally activating particular representations or associations in memory just before your child carries out an action or task (in this case, before they use a screen).
For example, if you were presented with the word “red” before a picture recognition task, you’d be slightly quicker to recognise the word “apple” because these two words are closely associated in memory.
Who remembers seeing LOTS of pregnant women when you were pregnant? They were everywhere! There weren’t necessarily more pregnant ladies in your area, it’s just that your increased sensitivity to pregnancy put this idea at the forefront of your mind. Consequently, this shaped your judgements, observations and decisions. Your brain was primed to find pregnant women.
How does “priming” work?
Priming is effective because it exposes children to new concepts (or new language) so these will rise to the surface of their consciousness. It boosts their alertness to new concepts or phenomena. They “tune in” and know what to look for when they’re using screens.
It gives them something upon which they can “hang” their new information that they encounter on a screen.
How does “priming” work with kids and screens?
When children use screens, it’s important that we set up their expectations about what they’ll encounter on the screen before they’re switched on. Priming helps children to know what to focus on, so they’ll be more likely to focus on the essential elements of a TV episode. Or it may help them to stay on-task when playing Minecraft.
Priming is also effective in preventing the “digital zombie” effect where children “zone out” when they become mesermised by screens.
When “priming” your child before they use a screen, you could elect to focus on the names of particular characters. Or you could direct their attention to particular vocabulary they might encounter in the app or TV episode. It might be slightly more involved by asking your child to explain what they intend to do in their Minecraft session before they actually start.
“What do you think is going to happen on Play School today, if it’s all about mini-beasts?”
“What are some shapes you might see in this app?”
“What are you going to build on Minecraft today?”
I told you this was a simple (but highly effective) strategy. Chances are you already do this before you read a book to your child:
What do you think will happen in this story? What will be the problem in this story?
Raising digital kids doesn’t have to be difficult or confusing. Apply this simple tip and you’ll be on your way to easing your “techno-guilt” because your child will be more likely to benefit from screens.
I’d love for you to try this tip out for yourself and share your results here. Does “priming” help your little one?