Today children are born into a world immersed in technology. In fact, many parents document their children's lives from the time they are born, proudly sharing photos and videos online. And even for the children of less tech-happy parents, it is virtually impossible to avoid encountering new media in society, especially in the classroom.
Textbooks, it seems, are a thing of the past, as almost everything can be accessed online, Googled in a matter of nanoseconds. Some schools have devices readily available, while others require students to purchase a device in order to complete an interactive teaching curriculum.
Since technology has so fully integrated itself into our homes, schools and society, how do parents determine when they want their child to begin using these electronic devices? Is there an appropriate age, especially when a child is most likely already being exposed to it on a daily basis?
We conducted an informal poll as to when people deem it appropriate for parents to purchase tablets, laptops and other electronic devices for their children. We received a lot of strong responses, with pros and cons offered for a variety of age groups.
*Too Young for Tech? Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers
The majority of people we heard from were strongly against buying any electronic devices for babies or toddlers. However, despite not buying their child a device of his or her own, many parents were open to the idea of allowing the child to play with parents' devices for entertainment. A few parents explained that it could help to distract the child and get them to stop crying in public settings.
One parent suggested a household tablet or laptop for the entire family's usage. This helps monitor and limit the amount of time the child spends on it, since everyone will be sharing equal responsibility of its care and usage.
One teacher stated that she had encountered 4-year-olds with their own tablets, which they bring to class as part of their learning experience. In her opinion, that's way too young.
On the other hand, another teacher proposed that first grade is an appropriate age for children to be taught "digital citizenship" to develop good habits with the internet. She explained that, for example, reading stories on a tablet is a useful skill to learn first -- before just surfing the web -- as it instills a positive use of technology. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, technology and interactive media can be an effective part of classroom practice for infants and toddlers. They specified, however, that an adult should always be mediating and using technology as point of human interaction to talk with the child.
*Just Right? Children and Teens
Most of my respondents said that they would buy an electronic device for their children when they're a little older. The consensus seemed to be that it's appropriate for children who reached the "double digits" (ages 10 and older) to have their own devices. However, there were those who advocated for an even older age minimum (14, 15, 16 or even 18).
The appropriate age is still elusive, and it truly depends on the parents and how much they want their child to be exposed to these technologies.
One parent explained that her daughter could ask for a tablet when she entered middle school, but she would still need to demonstrate that she could be responsible with her device, or the privilege would be taken away. However, this idea of responsibility and privilege could soon be rendered insignificant when certain schools are now requiring children to purchase tablets. If this trend continues over time, tablets and/or laptops will no longer seem like privileges, but rather educational requirements.
According to Harvard's Graduate School of Education, teachers use iPads "to empower students' creativity, allowing them to create multimedia projects that would not have been possible using any other technology." So, for parents who are concerned that technology might negatively impact young children's creativity and imagination: You may want to reevaluate how these new technologies, and consider that they might increase opportunities for creative, imaginative learning and thinking today.
Overall, the questions raised here generated a lot of passionate discussion about the intersection of technology and parenting. As we progress and become even more immersed in new-media worlds, it will no doubt become more difficult to manage what the future generations are exposed to and how they become integrated with technology. But in the face of a brand-new era, parents will do what they've always done: Decide what is and is not best for their children.