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How Will Technology Affect Today's Children Tomorrow

3/8/2011 5:26:34 PM

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Well, this post has little to do with making the magazine, but it does come straight from my daily inbox inspiration. And it seems like kids are the hot topic of the collective unconscious today—at least in my world. I started the day with a package of baby-food samples from Gerber (I passed them along to a colleage with children...I'll let you know what she says), and I got an e-mail reminder about some gorgeous organic baby clothes from Garden Kids I bought for a friend recently (so cute! check them out). Then two of my Facebook friends posted these thought-provoking stories about childhood and the importance of imaginative play.

The article "Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control" talks about the Geraldyn O. Foster Early Childhood Center in Bridgeton, New Jersey, where 4-year-olds learn skills of "executive function"—the ability to regulate our emotions and behaviors and to resist impulses. Good executive function is a better predictor of success in high school than a child's IQ, and today's children's time spent in front of televisions, video games and in organized sports robs them of the ability to learn to self-regulate, the Center's research says. In video games, the rules of the game tell you what to do. In sports or adult-led activities, the group leader or coach regulates children's behaviors. In her blog "10 Thoughts on Restoring Childhood," author and Director of Education and Outreach for Head Start Body Start Nutritional Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play Bethe Almeras says that childhood play is at its best when it is child-directed and unplugged.

Despite the fact that I don't have children, I find this area of study interesting. I am curious about the way growing up with constant access to the Internet and about a kajillion gadgets will affect children of today. Although I consider the Internet an integral part of my life, especially my working life, I grew up before it was invented. I watched television, but a huge portion of my time was spent outdoors with kids in my neighborhood writing and performing plays we made up, creating board games, inventing scavenger hunts for one another, or alone, acting out scenes in my own mind. Without a child of my own, I don't really know: Isn't that what kids still do?

According to these articles, the combination of television and Internet time along with organized sports and other activities leaves little time for children to play on their own. And I'm all for freewheeling, imaginative play. Like I said, that's definitely how I grew up. But one thing articles like this, which appear a lot in different ways, never address: What benefits will these kids have as adults from growing up with all this technology? My friends' 3-year-old jumps into technology as if it's hard-wired into his brain. He doesn't try to figure out how to make a function work. He just gets it. Last week, I took my iPad into the elementary school where I participate in a weekly reading program (I read to and hang out with a 7-year-old girl through a Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, and I'd downloaded a few apps I thought she would like to try), and not only was she jumping in, seemingly totally familiar with the technology (she'd never used an iPad before), so were the kids in the hall who came up to ask if they could play with it. The world these children will inhabit for their entire lives is one in which technology (which sounds like an archaic way to describe it even now) is just part of everything. I know we spend a lot of time talking about the negative impacts this will have on them, but what about any positive impacts? We had an article in Natural Home recently in which we talked about how our increase in technology, and our increased time engaging with technology rather than other humans, has taken away some of our human connection. And I agree with that to a point, but I also wonder: How has it enhanced our human connections? The recent revolution in Egypt was for the most part spawned by people's ability to connect via social media. Social media was credited with largely supporting the election of Barack Obama. Social media groups facilitate community organizations and events all across the country. Is it fair to say technology divides us? Doesn't it just as often bring us together? Is it fair to say technology is damaging children? Is it also enhancing their knowledge in some way?

I'm definitely not arguing here that kids should spend more time online, or more time in front of television and video game screens. I'm just trying to make the point that we should look at change for what it is: different. Not, most likely, all good or all bad. Change moves us forward, and it might make some of the things we loved about the past seem harder to achieve. I think a connection with nature and one another is probably the most crucial component to a healthy, happy childhood. But that doesn't mean we must demonize the changes in the world our children will grow up in.



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