Have you ever wondered what are the benefits or pitfalls of letting tech babysit our kids? Here’s how I, as a mother of two kids, went on a quest to find how technology’s role as a nanny is influencing the social, emotional and academic development of my children.
Let me tell you a story (on account of boring you with a long introduction), of how once upon a time, there was a mother who fed her children only with homemade meals, supported them with unconditional love and, even more importantly, played with them every minute of her free time. Her kids were happy, even though they didn’t watch Peppa Pig and had never played “Baby Shark” song on YouTube on repeat, because TV, tablets and smartphones were not allowed for children in their home. In other words, this is how 21st-century fairy tales begin.
The real truth about parenthood these days is that it is so complicated. We, “parennials” (Millennial parents), are turning to the internet for any parenting advice. Speaking of which, I just googled if it’s safe to introduce citrus fruits to my 10-month-old baby. And to be frank, I also turned to the Internet for advice on appropriate booster seat for my preschooler.
I am not a sloppy parent. I’ve spent hours reading parenting books, researching everything from solid food introduction to appropriate booster seats. But, the fact is, I’ll allow my kids to watch a cartoon on a tablet, while I prepare them a meal or answer an important phone call.
As Rebecca Parlakian, the program director for Zero to Three, an organization that studied new parents for three decades, pointed out that Google is the new grandparent, the new neighbour, and the new nanny.
If Google is a new nanny, as parents should we ask ourselves if it is ok to leave with technology as one of the sources of interaction?
Let the ‘tech babysit our kids
From the parent’s point of view, giving your child a tablet is the most effective solution so you can do the laundry, prepare the meal, and, if you have a baby, do some mission impossible stuff such as wash your hair. Your kid will be entertained and quiet and you will finish a job that has to be done. A win-win situation, right? But is the “tech nanny” as good as the human one?
There is no right answer to this question. On one side you have the parents who believe that giving the iPads to your little one can be harmful to their development. But the other group of parents believe that children with the new technological gadgets in their hands are preparing for the highly technological driven era.
Nevertheless, the situation is not as black and white. Since, both pros and cons linked to the use of new technologies as a modern-day babysitter. Keep in mind that the list below is guidance for appropriate use of technology while raising your kids, and not as a criterion whether or not to use it at all.
Positive effects of using technology as a babysitter
Technology, when used correctly, can have a very positive effect on a child’s development. Some research suggests that the ability to identify key information, improved hand-eye coordination, multi-tasking, and reaction time has developed more as kids interact with tech gadgets. The most popular technological “backup” for moms and dads worldwide is artificial-intelligence bot, Amazon’s Alexa. Why? It’s the perfect solution when you need a break or you simply want to use nanny services. “Hey Alexa, play David’s favourite song”.
So what is the key positive feedback from interaction between children and artificial-intelligence nanny?
Most of the kids are introduced to screens either with YouTube videos or game apps. And while we think that games are not the best solution for soothing your toddler who is craving for your attention, quite the opposite turned out to be true.
If you allow your kid to spend some time using electronic gadgets, playing video games can be very useful. They can complete the puzzles, build the whole new world, communicate with the other players, or make some very hard decisions on how to find the way out of the maze. They will meet a variety of tasks they’ll need to complete and the problems they’ll need to solve. In the process, they will learn to be more flexible in thinking and look at things in life from different angles. Playing video games shows your kid that there are a variety of problems with a variety of solutions. This is a great approach to problem-solving in real life.
Heads up: Check out what the game is all about before allowing your kids to play it. The content is the key to everything.
I tried to teach my preschooler the letters using the old method. I placed him at the table with that big old alphabet book. He could barely sit still for a minute and didn’t want to cooperate. But when I turned on the alphabet song on YouTube kid’s channel and handed him the tablet with the alphabet learning app, he began learning letters with excitement and joy.
If you have school-age kids, there are big chances that they already use technology in their classroom. Smartboards, document cameras, Smart TV and even 3D printers are now a part of school lessons, with the aim to engage students in the learning process that new generations need.
Prepare for the Future
It is obvious that our future will be built and dependent on many of today’s emerging technologies. In the future, technical skills will be more important in the workplace, as well as the growing impact it’ll have on everyday life. One of the greatest benefits of exposing kids to technology is the fact that they’ll be well-prepared for high-paying tech jobs.
We are witnesses that the IT sector is currently employing a large majority of jobs. At yet, by 2026 the need for programmers and software engineers will increase by 24%. Keeping that in mind, introducing technology skills to children at an early age is one of the “must-haves” in order to prepare them for a career with a positive outlook. Tech jobs are here today but will most certainly be here tomorrow. Who’s going to be best qualified to fill those positions? The ones who start learning now.
Even though the use of technology is perceived in a negative contest when talking about social skills development, it isn’t necessarily always the case.
Just the other day, my 4-year-old told me that it is polite to say hello to your neighbours and to ask how their day was. He reminded the kid in the park, who refuses to share his ball, that it is important to share your toys with friends. I do my best to teach him how to interact with others, but it’s never as effective as when Daniel Tiger shows him how to do it.
Educational TV shows and apps are important for social skill development because they can teach and show your kids how to introduce themselves to a new friend, how to interact with the kids in the kindergarten, how to solve conflict situations they have with their peers in the school. Yes, you are still the role model for your kid, and educational TV shows and apps are there to support you to do the best for your kid.
The Negative Effects of Technology in Child Development
Parental guilt nowadays seems to have everything to do with the number of hours that children spend on their devices and technical gadgets. Here are some noticeable negative impacts of technology on child development.
Teaching your child to understand how other kids are feeling and then react with compassion and care, is one of the toughest jobs for parents. Empathy is a fundamental skill for their future personal and social lives. It allows them to form and maintain relationships, better collaborate with others, and more effectively manage conflict.
In order to learn human feelings and reactions, children should be in constant interaction with “human” caregivers, rather than tech ones. In early childhood, kids are not yet capable of realizing how their actions affect others. This can cause them to act out or hit others when there is a conflict. Observation is a key feature of empathy.
The screen and the app cannot help them to realise how it hurts when someone hits you with the ball. Or how comforted they can feel with the kiss or a hug from the family member or a friend. The older they become, the more serious damage to their sense of empathy can occur. The main source and the culprit is the media content they consume. Violent movies and games are at the top of the list for killing empathy. These content formats are also responsible for bringing destructive behaviour in children’s life.
The moment I realised that tech can be a very bad nanny is when I went to the park with my kids to enjoy some fresh air and fun games on swings, slides and spinners. When we reached the park my preschooler beelined to the bench, sat next to me and asked for my smartphone. We were at the park, there were a bunch of kids playing, laughing and having a great time together. My kid would rather watch some video on my smartphone then run around with his peers.
Children who have more screen time have fewer personal interactions with others, which makes them difficult to form friendships and develop social skills that don’t involve computers, tablets, or phones.
Key: Find balance!
Learning process and methods
Kids in the tech era learn how to use touchscreens at an early age. It is not surprising that traditional learning methods are not applicable to them, mainly because they have a short attention span.
On the other hand, the internet has become a primary source for learning. If you need any information, you can google it rather than spending time in the library. And if you want to learn some new skills, just search for the most suitable one on the internet and attend courses online without leaving home.
Why can this be bad for a kid’s education? Instead of reading and doing homework, today’s kids indulge in entertainment. A similar situation goes for the Internet. If they are using the Internet to search for information they will benefit from their time in the online world. While we link online gaming or socializing with lower exam results. Children have a hard time focusing attention on the lessons and resisting impulsive behavior.
How can we know if the tech nanny is not hijacking my kids’ brain?
The key to a long and happy life rests on one principle – in all things moderation. Anything can be harmful if it is over consumed, and today’s tech is no exception. Therefore, the answer to the final question is to use the benefits from tech in ways that encourage movement, real-life experience, improve the learning process and the building of social skills. Our kids need us to guide them through the process of digitalisation. Let them know that we, their parents, family and friends, are here to help them grow, learn, experience life. While the tech nanny is only one of the tools that help accomplish that goal.
This article is part of our series on Generation Alpha
We seek to provide answers to your most pressing questions about keeping your kids safe online, introducing them to the digital world, and helping them be their authentic selves online.
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