Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Raising "Digital Natives" with The Family iPad

Finally, a parenting piece in The Atlantic has validated my parenting choices, whoo hoo! There's a great article in the April issue by Hanna Rosin (having typed that, I'm pretty sure hell might have just frozen over) that just arrived in the mail but I can't seem to find a link to anywhere online, called "The Touch-Screen Generation." Reads like a very well-intentioned parenting blog post, like a more in-depth, reporty version of something straight out of Ask Moxie. But, of course, the cover photo is creepy - and, um, it happens to looks just like my kid, complete with the iPad covering up her face (I mean, it's The Atlantic, what else did I expect?)

In it, I learned some new-to-me terms: Digital Natives - they are the first generations of children growing up fluent in the language of computers, video games, and other technologies. Everybody else are Digital Immigrants, just struggling to understand. Of course, we all know exceptions, but from where I set these monikers generally fit.

The Hush family is the proud owner of one sole, cherished, iPad. It gets a lot of use by all of us, preschoolers and adults alike. For now, we have just the one in our house. Kind of like there was just "The Phone" singular, or "The TV" singular when I was growing up in the 1980s. My parents and I often had to wait our turn to use it. (I'm thinking of that Louis C.K. bit about having only one of something in the house growing up, and how awesome things are now by comparison.)

We let the kids play educational apps on the iPad at home pretty much whenever the mood strikes them (except bedtime, when we all take a tech time out - on the presumption it might inhibit sleep, but I wonder about that). More on those specific apps after the jump. We each happen to use the family iPad somewhat differently.

I use it only to watch The Walking Dead on Netflix while I run on the treadmill (and let me tell you, there's nothing like zombies to encourage you to pick up your pace.) DH uses it for sales pitches at work, and to do his online shopping. Funny, we also have a desktop iMac in my office, but I'm pretty much the only one who ever uses it. We rarely allow the kids to touch our phones - DH has an iPhone, and I have a Droid but I now wish I could travel back in time to 2011 and pick an iPhone instead. Oh well, my decision made sense at the time. Compared to my peers, I hardly ever upgrade my cell phones, and I have only had a lifetime total of 3 cell phones since I was forced (as in, personally called in to the boss' office and told to pick one up ASAP) to get my first, for work, in 2004 - and by then I was super late to that party.

Anyway, our youngest was born in the fall of 2009. The iPad came out in April 2010. We got ours sometime in 2011, and it is hard to remember life as a parent without it.

These days, you'll pry our family iPad out of our cold, dead hands!! I know, I know. But isn't this just another iteration of that dreaded "screen time" the APA urges us to limit because it rewires children's brains? My luddite friend who is training to be a Waldorf teacher thinks we're doing our children irreparable harm. I think she means well, but she's drinking the Kool-Aid and does not have children of her own yet. I, too, was an awesome parent before I had kids.

I absolutely love the ("educational"? yes, yes, absolutely) apps our kids use. Our three-year-old loves the Starfall ABCs app, Memory Train, and Montessori Crosswords.  Our five-year-old is currently fond of Stack the States, (and Stack the Countries), Star Walk, and Slice It!.  Let's just say I'm utterly convinced my kids are benefitting from having these apps occupy some space in their childhoods. I might not feel that way if they were on the iPad each and everyday, but they're not. They use it with about the same frequency as they use any other "toy" or activity at our house. Sometimes they go way more than a week without asking for it.  Should we as parents be treating the iPad any differently than we treat, say, books, art supplies, Montessori works, TV, or sports equipment? What role does screen time generally have in your family life?

And I'm always on the lookout for more app recommendations, so if you've got them, please leave them in the comments.


Anonymous said...

We're raising ours old-school. He's gonna have to use a keyboard. I am just shocked at how college students today do not have basic computer skills. Yes, they have amazing cell-phone skills, but so much of what they need is still on the type of devices we old fogies use.

Got It, Ma! said...

I think we're pretty strict about screen time. Of course, both my kids are school age and getting increasingly busy with homework and activities, so those things naturally limit recreational screen time.

We don't own any video game consoles; one of those policy decisions we made very early on and which I have been glad of every single day since. Operating as a solo parent a lot of the time, I just don't need one more thing to manage.

I see so many kids who don't know what to do with themselves if they don't have a TV or a video game to play. I'm really glad my kids are easily unplugged and know how to play outside for a whole afternoon without the use of batteries.

I have a few straight-up games on the iPad that the kids play once in a while (Anodia, Mah Jong) but for the most part they use my iPad to help them study for school related things. Both kids' teachers use Spelling City. It's especially helpful when we're out at various practices, one kid having to wait for the other to finish. If I said "study your spelling" I'd get sighs and complaint. If I say "play a spelling game on the iPad," I never get any argument. And their spelling tests prove it really works.

My son (11) is currently doing the 50 U.S. States and Capital Cities unit. We've been helping him study with flashcards and blank maps, but also with a great iPad app called Learn the State by Merge Media. I think any one method wouldn't be as effective as all of them together, which to me is kind of the whole point. It's not a replacement for other kinds of learning; it's an enhancement of them.

My daughter (8) is struggling a bit with coin math, so I grabbed another Merge Media app called Money. It's really fun and she's already feeling more confident about her coins.

My daughter's second grade class uses ScootPad on classroom iPads (not standard in the school unfortunately. She has a great teacher who is a grant writing fiend) McGraw Hill has great addition (Top-It), division (Divisibility) and multiplication apps.

Like you, hush, I use my iPad mostly for running. Also, the Epi app gives us our whole Epicurious recipe box at our finger tips. Fabulous for quick dinners and the ingredients list scrolls separately from the directions which is so user friendly.

I think you do have to be careful of overall screen time, and make sure everyone is consuming stuff that's worthwhile. It's important to set limits. But I think it's about quality as well as quantity.

What I'm most concerned with is that we set a firm rule of no screens in bedrooms. That's really the danger zone for kids as they get to be tweens and teens. We have no bedroom TVs, iPads stay in the common areas of the house, my son's iPod only goes into his bedroom for listening to audio books and is always plugged in at it's designated spot downstairs at bedtime.

I still use a laptop for most of what I do. The iPad is a relatively inexpensive way for the kids to have a computer and internet access without risking the health and safety of my data. The keyboard skills are something I want them to work on, though. So I'm thinking about getting a keyboard for the iPad and some typing apps. My son gets a laptop through school starting next year, so that'll be another learning curve for us all.

Like it or not, our kids are part of the digital age. Teaching them good digital citizenship and helping them establish safe and healthy digital habits is one of our jobs. I find to be a great source of info on online safety, etc.

paola said...

I am definitely a digital immigrant and illiterate at that. I am not fussed about this seeing my hubby is the polyglot whenit comes to digital so it works itself out. The kids would totally abuse digital if they had the choice, but like all immigrants, I prefer the old country so encourage paper versions over everything. Case in point: Noah had to prepare a book review recently and wanted to do it as a power point presentation. As I think he has his whole life ahead of him to use digital, and basically it would have meant that I, and not he, would have had to do his work for him, I persuaded him to go the old-fashined route. In the end he wrote his own notes and worked on other ways of making his presentation interesting, and did the whole thing by himself. Other parents whose kids went the PP route ended up doing the whole damn presentation for them.

paola said...

Oh, yeah @nicoleandmaggie, many of my ESLstudents are confessing to the fact that they do not even know how to use computers or the internet if it is not on their phone. This is the 20 to 25 year age group who are out of school and therefore don't need one for writing essays etc. They are probably even worse off that my mums generation who can at least get their computers going so they can log on the FB

Haley said...

No children here, but an anecdote: Recently at brunch, my friend and I looked around the restaurant and noticed about 70% of kids between the ages of 2-12 playing on an iPad at the table, some while they ate. Apparently it's the new normal.

I think it's sort of rude, and that my future kids will need to learn to wait for their food and chat politely, but then again we don't take our phones out at restaurants either. People don't know what to do with themselves for 5+ minutes without a screen, and I don't think it's a good trait to install starting at 2 years old.

hush said...

@nicoleandmaggie - Keyboard skills, yes! Great point. Fascinating to me that this is a deficit you and @Paola are both seeing in the early 20's age bracket - a demographic that up to now I had presumed to be facile with a keyboard. You've changed my perspective here, so thank you.

@Got It, Ma! - Great comment, I'll ponder your rules about no screens in bedrooms, and no video game consoles in the house. Maybe sometimes it is easier to totally abstain from something/ institute a blanket ban than to attempt to do it in moderation, and also work on moderation in other more manageable areas while thinking in terms of both quantity and quality as you say. And I'll be bookmarking - thanks!

@Paola - "like all immigrants, I prefer the old country so encourage paper versions over everything." Ha. Me, too. I'm anal about keeping some things filed on paper as a backup. That's great your son had the experience of doing the whole presentation himself because you encouraged him to go analog. Great perspective.

@Haley - I feel my half Southern-ness coming on. Funny, we don't seem to have the same hang-ups about a kid coloring at the restaurant table.

The New/Old School etiquette firmly says electronic devices at the dinner table are a faux pas no matter what the user's age. But. For a very young child, say age 2-4 (who does not yet have an older child's ability to sit still in their chair for an hour, or to be a full participant in dinner conversation), I suppose I can understand a parent's decision to hand the child a small device *with the sound turned off* for them to play with in their chair, while waiting for food to arrive, and while not visibly resting said device on the table - and only at an informal restaurant. Yeah, I'm not super comfy with it because of the way I was raised, but I understand!

I empathize with anyone who has to parent in public these days. They'll no doubt be judged for something - especially if there is a phone anywhere in sight! Reminds me of that smug awful "Dear Mom on the iPhone" post that went viral.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe sometimes it is easier to totally abstain from something/ institute a blanket ban than to attempt to do it in moderation"

I think that's true, but that it also seems from your description that your kids are handling the iPad in moderation. I'd have the concern that one keeps track of the time to make sure that's not changing.

In our house, screen time is a controlled activity, highly controlled. In my experience, my kiddo would ask for it too much when he's allowed to use it too frequently. The other parent in the household thinks that the child's wheedling is a result of unclear rules about when screen time will be allowed, so we are working on whether there are better rules we can come up with (rather than blanket bans) that still keep him from acting like an addict asking for a fix.

I'm, vaguely, a brain scientist. I think that the immediate reward/gratification of electronic reinforcement/games results in a brain re-wiring. I also think that's very much a hypothesis that's still unproven. The pieces are there for the click/reward systems to maladaptive reward behaviors (towards short term, guessing, weakening executive/planning skills). But there's no concrete evidence showing that happens in a real person. My guess is that for my hypothesis to really effect development, one needs a combination of lack of reward/reinforcement in other areas (i.e. social interaction, for example) and access to video games.

In many households, though, moderate use might be both possible and perfectly fine.


Anonymous said...

PS: Regarding keyboarding skills. I think it's quite possible that when your little ones (less so with mine) voice recognition will be enhanced enough that keyboarding skills won't be the same need they are now.

My 12 year old talks to her phone quite a bit (though she's also a good typist when at a regular keyboard, she doesn't like to use the phone keyboard).


Claudia said...

Hush, you've arrived! You have a spammer in your comments! Of course they were drawn to the special letters with the special capitalization inserted in the word.

Anyway, the school provided an iPad to all students, and it has proven to be a problem for a lot of parents. It's really just addictive. So we have good old screen time limitations and lots of other real-world activities, including playing with sticks and such.
She hasn't learned keyboard skills yet (going on 7 years old), and I wonder if that will come via school, or if I will try to teach her.

Totally agree with the anon comment that there is a click reward brain function going on. I'm not even vaguely a brain scientist, but I find it very fascinating, and do some reading on it occasionally.

oilandgarlic said...

I try to limit screen time (including TV, ipad, phones, computers) to some degree. I think it's quite easy to get absorbed by those things at the expense of other types of play, going outside etc.. I worry about the effects of watching TV/digital entertainment in terms of learning delayed gratification and good old fashioned imagination. I also don't believe in TV in the bedrooms or while dining. However, we have gotten into a very bad habit of having the phone or ipad around during mealtime. Sometimes the kids just need to quiet down!

hush said...

The H. Rosin article I referenced in this post is now online:

@bj - Thanks for chiming in. Glad to know a brain scientist chooses "highly controlled screen time" but not a blanket ban. Haven't heard from any blanket ban advocates here yet (I suppose they don't hang out on the internets).

@Claudia - Thanks for the happy spin on my spam, I like your way of looking at it. That's amazing your schools give every kid an iPad (wow, Denmark, has resources). Just curious, is there any way for parents who have any possible addiction concerns to opt-out of their kid using an iPad at school?

On addiction in a different but potentially analogous context, I'll note that some advocate giving young children small glasses of wine at dinner if that's what the parents are having (a la my view of how things might be in say, France). It is said once the kids are older to remove the allure of the taboo, and to model moderation. Hmm....

@oilandgarlic - Yes, tech play is often at the expense of outdoor play and imagination - is there an app for that? I kid. But seriously, my DS often uses the Star Walk app outdoors while stargazing (one upside to living in the middle of nowhere is our amazing view of the nighttime sky). I can't think of any outdoorsy play type apps though.

Claudia said...

Geo tracking! Or is that something non-app? Anyway, outdoor activity, if you're looking for one.

As to your question about addictiveness, the iPads are provided mostly to be used at school. The problem comes when the kid takes it home, as they do every day. I'm sure they'd make arrangements to have it stashed somewhere safe every afternoon if the parents wanted it out of the house. Or they'd just tell the parents to control usage at home, since they are not afraid of being blunt sometimes, thank dog.

Cloud said...

We gave Pumpkin our old computer when she turned 5- and I think she's getting a typing game for her birthday this year (from my parents). Right now, she can type into a word processor (OpenOffice) and has some Chinese shows/games.

But I also have a Kindle Fire, which has apps, books, and a couple shows for the kids. (Plus I have Amazon Prime, so I can stream more shows.) And the kids love it.

I limit access to it, primarily because it is useful to me to have it be a treat- I bring it along when they will need to wait patiently for something, and it helps enormously. If it were an everyday thing, I doubt it would work as well for that.

I also bring coloring pages and crayons, and maybe one or two "regular" books. But the Kindle Fire allows me to bring so many more books and also has apps. They generally bounce between playing games and reading books.

Anonymous said...

re: alcohol... my father is European, so we always had access to alcohol at home. It never had a big allure, or rather, the idea of getting drunk never made sense to us. Alcohol was always a food for us, and drinking cheap bad stuff didn't make sense. Life is too short to drink bad liquor.