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Second Shift

A Smarter Way To Think About "Screen Time" And Kids' Tech Use

As the Internet of Things becomes a thing, we need to evolve our thinking about how and why our kids consume technology.

[Photo: Flickr user Rafiq Sarlie]

Growing up, I remember using a typewriter for school papers and coveting that fancy Sony Discman. Fast forward to where we are currently and, instead, I’m preparing my 7-year-old daughter to transition to a Google-facilitated classroom, where digital textbooks and online resources will be a seamless part of the classroom.

With the ever-evolving digital landscape, it’s up to us as parents to help shape our children’s interaction with technology. Most parents are in the same boat, navigating the tricky technology waters for our kids while, at the same time, struggling to even stay abreast of new technological developments ourselves.

There’s a growing body of research that of technological curiosity, as well as evidence that suggests kids are spending more time looking at devices, but a very small percentage of it doing something creative or interactive (rather, it's just a new screen for watching TV).

With so many opportunities to become inundated with technology, the challenge is less about how many minutes of screen time kids should have, and more about proactively building necessary tech skills while minimizing pointless digital time-wasters. In our home, we want to prepare our daughter for a high-tech world, but in a conscious way that establishes an interactive and educational environment with regard to her technology experience, instead of one that was wholly consumer-based, one-way entertainment.

Here are the apps and devices we decided helped us emphasize learning:

Last summer, our daughter decided that she wanted to learn how to play tennis and quickly excelled in this new pursuit. While she could mostly gauge her skill level, one way to incorporate technology with her newfound interest was adding the Babolat Pop wristband to her tennis arsenal. The Pop wristband monitors her game and allows her to see real-time feedback as the number of strokes hit, amount of spin, and overall power of her shots for her hitting session. This teaches her that technology can be interactive and tailored specifically to her—the opposite of the mass media approach that has been a constant over the last century.

We value creativity in our house and all of us enjoy drawing, painting, building, and designing. Art for Kids Hub, a web-based art and design curriculum, provides incredible instruction at a kid-friendly level that is accessible 24/7. Additionally, PBS's Design Squad showcases basic engineering and design concepts at her level, inspiring her to invent a "choice" machine out of a milk carton and paper plate "wheel." Both of these sites are a fantastic way for us to supplement her educational curriculum while boosting creativity and art exploration.

Our daughter is extremely interested in anything math and science-based, which is exciting for us when we think of what she may be when she grows up. That said, she asks for challenges in these areas, which led us to Khan Academy. It provides free access to nearly every conceivable subject on the planet and engages students in a technologically sophisticated way. It’s no wonder that Bill Gates referred to the founder/CEO Sal Khan as "his favorite teacher."

If you can believe it, we currently live within one of the few remaining areas that lack cellphone service. This means that our daughter’s exposure to smartphones is limited. Yet, we understand the need to bring that type of technology into the house, which is why she uses the Microsoft Surface for interactive web-based computer time as well as any writing projects that she may want to work on. In addition to the Surface, we also recently bought her the Nintendo 3DS. While we have fun games for long car rides that provide finger dexterity and mental stimulation, we also have games like BrainQuest, Zoo Resort, and Funky Barn that are entertaining yet educational.

Ever since she hopped on the American Girl bandwagon, her interest in creating her own American Girl videos has skyrocketed, especially recently with the launch of their 2016 video series #TeamAGLife. Because of this, she uses a digital camera/video camera (we have an inexpensive VTech Kidizoom) to create her own shareable videos, complete with sound. This is a skill that is more than just fun; it is essential that the upcoming generation is fluent in rich-media creation.

As our daughter continues down her future path, we’ll do our best to continue to cultivate technology that fits her interests and remains both interactive and educational.

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