Hard Wired for Hardware
Anyone who has been spent any amount of time with a child recently can tell you that the coming generation is more technologically advanced than many adults are. Children have figured out how to work the DVD player on their own at age two, are playing computer games at age three, and teaching their parents how to use an iPhone at four. This generation is described as “digital natives” in an article from the California Teachers Association published last year. The article goes on to explain that today’s generation is headed for careers that don’t even exist today asserting, “They are well educated and very likely to benefit from the independence provided by cell phones, computers and whatever other technology awaits around the corner.”
Children today grow up with technology all around them. Take for example my children’s “chalk board” it is a massive interactive touch screen mounted to the wall that displays the screen of the teacher’s lap top. While I shudder at the cost of such things, it is mesmerizing to watch small children naturally navigate such complex multidimensional computer programs with ease.
According to a study from the Kaiser family foundation kids spend about 6.5 hours s day consuming digital media. This has led to a phenomenon known as digital multitasking. “Kids today can text, do homework, post pictures online, and play video games—all at the same time.” Many people may wonder how this is affecting the developing brains of young children and in fact studies have been done that show children growing up today have different neurological connections formed in their brains. Their brains are literally being rewired by the technology they are exposed to.
Don Tapscott author of the book Growing Up Digital explains the benefits of digital multitasking “What’s happening is that they have better switching abilities and they have better active working memory so that enables them to go rapidly between tasks. It seems like they are doing a bunch of things at once but actually they’re not. They’re able to focus on something and then quickly change and focus on something else.”
Not everyone agrees that all of this technology is a good thing however. With all of the attention spent on learning and utilizing new technology some studies show that kids are falling behind in other more basic life skill development. Spelling is a big one. With people texting more and more it seems less people take the time to actually spell out words even in my generation. This is a personal pet peeve of mine, as someone that spend my college years studying literature and grammar, I will flat out refuse to text with friends who don’t take the time to write in complete sentences or spell out simple words. I only abbreviate words if I can’t spell it close enough to spell check to correct it for me.
One study by AVG Technologies of children aged 4-5 showed that only 14% knew how to tie their shoes and only 20% knew how to swim; while 30% knew how to operate a smart phone, and 69% could operate a computer mouse, open a web browser, navigate to a specific page, and play an interactive computer game. That is more than 2/3 of Kindergarteners!
Parent’s need to make sure they are not neglecting to teach their kids basic life skills like tying shoes while focusing too much on technology.
Another down side of having children that are technology savvy at such a young age is that they are often not mature enough to understand exactly how things work or how to take care of equipment. My children have stumbled upon you tube videos that they really shouldn’t have been watching and my computer has been missing the number “5” key for a few years because my son thought the key board was a puzzle he could take apart and put back together.
Another friend of mine learned the hard way that while two year olds know how to make a movie play, pause, and skip to the next scene it is not always the best idea to give a two year old full access to the DVD player. When his DVD player stopped working he took off the top to see if he could identify the problem and he could.
Inside he found two spoons, a foam dart, a CD, a crayon, his iPod, two candy canes, half of a plastic Easter egg, a pack of fruit snacks, the wrapper from a bag of cookies, eight playing cards, and several scraps of paper. Needless to say the DVD player was put out of reach once it was put back together and amazingly still worked!
Whether we like it or not, whether we think it is a good thing or not, children today are growing up surrounded by technology and are mastering this medium at a younger and younger age. I have accepted that my children will outpace my computer skills before they hit middle school; I just hope I can keep up enough to know what they are even doing if I don’t know how to do it myself.