Tech wise: what’s the plan?

How are you going to face the long summer? You may have food and drinks in the fridge or plans to visit people who do. You probably have your fire survival and evacuation plan organised. But what about your ‘children and technology’ plan? Have you activated a plan for relaxing and avoiding conflict over children’s device use this summer? Even if you have some rules in place, what about the new gadgets and apps that will slip into your home or early education setting along with the festivities and gift-giving?

In the spirit of the season Early Childhood Australia (ECA) put some questions to three wise women about their top strategies for adults to relax and enjoy the holidays with children and their technologies. Professor Susan Edwards, Dr Kate Highfield and Karen Hope come bearing gifts of insight from their collective experience as educational and child development experts, leading thinkers and researchers on technology, and STEM educational uses of technology by young children, teachers of early childhood educators—and of course as parents dealing with technology use in their homes.

ECA: What are your three top strategies for relaxing and enjoying holidays with children and their technologies this year?   

Susan Edwards says:

  • Choose games, apps and content that children and families can enjoy together
  • Try to use technology in shorter bursts of time throughout the day interspersed with different activities, such as walking, going to the park, or shared story-telling
  • Enjoy the opportunity to listen to what children know about their favourite digital activities, how they play, what they do and why they like it.

Kate Highfield says:

  • Look ‘beyond the technology’—rather than being frustrated that children are using a screen, instead look at what children are doing on screen. This opens up opportunities to co-engage, to enter into children’s digital worlds and talk about what is happening on the screen and possibly then springboard out into off screen play.
  • Have open and clear communication about screen time. If you’re concerned about how much time a child is using their device—discuss this and come up with a plan to balance this (creating a joint intention rather than punitive measures) similarly, if you’re concerned about the types of apps your children are using, discuss these too—perhaps re-sorting apps and removing any that are concerning or don’t align with your philosophies.
  • Promote opportunities for creative use of technology—for example taking photos (and printing them to make real books, or compiling them into a book via an app such as book creator).

Karen Hope says:

Parenting within a digital landscape is a challenge, but child development psychologist, Piaget would recognise that modern day children demonstrate the theory of accommodation and assimilation, if he could see them working with technology. With literally thousands of apps competing for our attention—choosing which technology to use, and neg­otiating its use and content with children—can be fraught and stressful.

  • Young children learn their digital habits early and they learn them from adults. Children will use technology in the way the see it being used. Moderation is the key here. Dinner, bed and bath time are good times to put devices away for children and adults. Be present, be engaged. Join your attention to children’s attention. A good way to think about the role of parents here, is that of mentor to child. You are modelling what a healthy digital relationship looks like.
  • Integrate technology into family life. Do it together. An example of this is cooking together using apps to choose recipes and prepare them. Technology when used together can be a positive experience.
  • Be kind to yourself. Remember that each family is different and the decisions that you make for children will be different. Technology has the capacity to keep children engaged for longs periods of time. That’s why many parents use it. The occasional over reliance, especially at this busy time of year will not have a lifelong impact.

ECA: Is there something you wished you’d known as a young educator or young parent that would have helped avoid conflict during the holidays?

Kate Highfield says: As a young educator, I wish I had thought more carefully about technology use—my technology use, so I could consider the model I’m providing. Secondly, I wish I had thought beyond the ‘fun, whiz bang’ to look into what the technology really affords, for me this means not getting sucked into ‘techno-lust’ and instead thinking about whether the tech enables me (or my children) to do something they can’t do normally, or can’t do off screen.

Karen Hope says: Play with and really familiarise yourself with the apps or devices you give to children. One of the first things that happens when we become an adult is to forget what it was like to be a child. The best ‘way in’ to understanding what it is that captivates children, what can make it, so addictive is to see it from their point of view. Parents really need to know how the app works, what are the different rewards, levels, outcomes etc. If you are to set realistic and achievable boundaries around device use.

Don’t make technology reward based. This is a slippery slope for two reasons:

  • It posits the device or app as special. This is what you get when you behave, eat your broccoli etc. Technology is a part of daily life and should be treated as such. At a time when self-regulation skills are known to be important for children’s mental health, it is vital, they get opportunities to learn how to do this themselves.
  • It motivates children extrinsically rather than intrinsically. If I brush my teeth every night, I will get 30 minutes on my iPad rather than I brush my teeth every night because it keeps my teeth healthy.

Susan Edwards says: Conflict around technology use comes from people having different values at a moment in time about how and why technologies should be used. Children may well have a different value—such as connecting with friends or mastering a game that it is at odds with what a parent or caregiver thinks is important. I wished I knew that technologies themselves do not cause conflict. How people use technologies, is what matters. Thinking about people using technologies makes it easier to have conversations with children about expectations for technology use over the course of the day.

ECA: What is your favourite technology this year that represents the best in design and development for young children’s social, cognitive or mental development?

Karen Hope: Research the apps before buying.  Apps generally are motivated beyond the altruistic. Are there in-app purchases or inbuilt gambling opportunities? Are they free? Free is not always free.

Does the content appeal to children’s interests and match their level of development?

Apps such as ABC Kids Play and Lego provide good security features and attract positive parent reviews. Consider also other types of ways to engage children digitally that can support interests such as Pandacam which is an initiative of the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Unit.

Susan Edwards says: My absolute favourite for 2019 is represented by home-grown Australian digital media—Bluey! I adore Bluey for using digital media to engage children and families in story-telling, imagination and play that tells the day-by-day stories of early childhood.

Kate Highfield says: I am LOVING clip on lenses, such as a macro lens (you can find examples here—www.teds.com.au/black-eye-hd-2-in-1-clip-on-wide-macro-lens ). This turns a smart phone or tablet into a magnifying glass and allows you to capture nature in new ways. My second is an App that is on nearly every device—it’s a camera (remember to make use of slo-mo and time lapse modes). Taking photos of events and then looking through them together provides great opportunities to communicate. For very young children this revisiting can be a powerful cognitive tool.

ECA says:

ECA Statement on young children and technology use.

Children have the right to participate in meaningful and developmentally appropriate ways in a technology-rich world. That’s why ECA spent a number of years putting together and working with a cross-disciplinary expert panel—the ECA Digital Policy Group—to develop guidance for educators. The result was the ECA Statement on young children and digital technologies. It recognises the opportunities and risks that technology poses for children, that adults—educators as well as parents and caregivers—can play a vital role in mentoring young children in technology use, (rather than simply banning it), and that children can be supported to develop healthy digital habits for life.

Have a plan

We recognise that many families and educators find the rapid developments in technology bewildering and feel unclear about what to do, especially when some advice—based only around limiting or banning technology—seems impractical or contradictory. Have a look at the ECA Statement on young children and digital technologies and the Summary practice guide which looks at practical responses in four areas that are crucial to children’s growth and learning.

Holidays can present a crisis. What will your plan be?


Author biographies: 

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Early Childhood Australia

eperez@earlychildhood.org.au'

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