Once upon a time the first telephones were feared for invasion of privacy or that sounds from telephones could make you deaf or turn you mad! Initially seen as toys, telephones were soon seen to be vital for delivering messages quickly and assisting people in times of need. Rather than seeing the “doom and gloom” side of modern communications technology, I believe that we need to embrace it for the good that can be done, but be proactive in managing what goes wrong.
I’m not sure things are that much different. I recall when we were very young kids going into public phone boxes and trying to phone people without money, effectively producing a prank call as we couldn’t actually speak to them. So here is my confession – later as pre teens we did in fact make some prank calls – we thought it was funny at the time . We were kids, we were innocent and we didn’t think about the effect or possible consquences on the end that telling someone they had one a prize from the radio station could have. It was years later that I thought about it and felt regret that we probably had someone so excited and then crushed them by shouting April fool down the phone! Today’s children are not all that different, although possibly having access to phones at a much younger age and therefore even less likely to fully understand consequences. It is up to us to make sure we equip them with some degree of understanding before putting such a powerful instrument in their hands. It is not just the power of voice in their hands, but of word and pictures.
Personally I feel we have gone a little backwards in that mobile devices are again being seen as toys, when they are actually tools for both communication and learning. The rapid growth has allowed them to flourish and be so quickly adopted before we have had time to consider possible consequences. I believe that through education (particularly for parents) we can harness the good and minimise the bad.
Firstly it is important that we should not allow our children completely unrestricted use of devices. We need to ensure that we teach children how to respect these tools and that they demonstrate responsible use. One of the biggest ways we can do that is by modelling the behaviour ourselves.
For many children, particularly in the area of special needs; devices such as tablets and iPods provide much need stimulus and interest in learning. The screens are bright and for children who need consistency such as those with autism, they provide predictability and can be a wonderful way to engage these children. Through the use of iPads, iPods and tablet devices teachers are able to individualise learning plans and the child can learn at their own pace. For children (and adults) with fine motor skills impairment, a touch screen is much easier to use.
The list of benefits goes on: the devices are easy to carry and facilitate communication – the children can engage with their family at home and continue the learning experience. Often through these devices children are able to communicate, interact and participate where it was not possible before. This can enable “real” connection for the first time for autistic children.
For other children these tools are just another “layer” to the way they communicate. Texting and messaging is just part of life and sometimes allows them to say things they might otherwise not be able to communicate. Of course this can also mean sometimes they say things they shouldn’t say (but don’t they anyway?). Young children say what they see and what pops into their curious minds. It is up to us, as the enablers, to encourage children to learn good social media etiquette and take responsibility for what they put online. Children, particularly teens can be extremely sensitive to what they perceive and therefore we need to educate them to understand how to protect themselves. Parents must take a proactive role in this education.
We must ensure is that there is healthy balance between screen time and time spent with other learning materials and books, as well as putting good healthy habits into place. Ensuring there is time for play and outdoor activities and time without any devices is importance for health. A child should never have to feel “bored” in this day and age.
There are simple rules of use that parents and children (and schools) can develop to ensure we are making the most out of our devices and minimising any negatives or risks.
Top 7 tips from iRespectOnline:
- Agree on usage – when and where and time limits before allowing a child access to a mobile device. If rules are set from the beginning it is much more likely to become a habit. Make it a priority to have other “non device” activities planned.
- Set up privacy and security settings and remove access to downloading apps without parental permission. Disable or remove components which are not suitable for a particular stage of development or learning.
- Don’t allow the use of devices during meal times or right before bed.
- Don’t allow young children to use devices without supervision
- Check out reviews and investigate apps before downloading them.
- Get involved with your school and make sure that there is consistency between school usage policy and what you allow at home.
- Encourage open dialogue with children and be observant.
It is important to also consider whether your child is ready for a mobile phone and if you have many reservations and don’t really want them to have a phone then dont let them. Chapter 2.6 of my new book Futureproof Your Kids (www.futureproofyourkids.com) covers the issues you need to consider and be aware of in more detail. At iRespectOnline we have produced a mobile phone decision chart to help parents decide whether or not they should allow their child a phone.
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