Nick Smith, a thirty-something friend sent me an email in response to my article Technology Fear Mongering at the Huffington Post. The resulting conversation turned into ten reasons “bad” technology is good for your kids.
- Social Development: “I have a 4-year-old nephew” he said, “and a couple that are slightly older. I just received a phone call from the little one. We talked about a few different things. He knew the whole routine of greetings, sharing a conversation and then wrapping it up, he said, ‘I’ll call you when I need to call you’ which I took as him picking up on things like ‘call me when you land safely’ or ‘I’ll call you after work.’”
- Self-control: “Last week, I played an Xbox One game with him. Although his previous experience was limited to swiping his finger on a Kindle, now he was using a controller to manipulate Lego characters on a screen 10 feet away. In short order he was able to switch from one character for another depending on the problem. When crashing through a wall was required, he selected The Hulk. When swinging to the top of a building to flip a switch was the challenge, he selected Spiderman.
- Brain development: “In order to make his characters a success, he not only had to react fast and make quick judgments, he also collected various tokens and symbolic treasures that would help him to develop his characters’ power and to create new characters. This kind of prefrontal cortex activity (planning, goal setting, decision making) occurs a dozen times a minute.”
- Learning languages: “Being successful in this vast imaginary universe requires learning a new language.”
- Psychosocial development: “This universe is populated with a nearly infinite variety of alternate identities.”
- Political savvy: “These characters can compare their strengths and weaknesses with other characters, form different alliances, create and recreate different factions, and compare their factions’ strengths and weaknesses with those of rival factions. It is essential to create the right pairings of complimentary skills to accomplish 100% of the missions and sub tasks.”
- Preparing for today’s world: “Not much in the ‘real world’ gives him this range of tools for exploring the complexity of causal relationships. Growing up in a family of 10 might come close. And BTW, the controller that this 4-year old now knows how to use, complete with 10 buttons, 2 joysticks, 4 rumble motors and Bluetooth capabilities, is the EXACT SAME as the ones used to control unmanned drones used by the US military. Gee, I wonder why?”
- Setting goals and pursuing objectives: “My nephews understand goals and incentives. Hand them a Kindle and on their own they navigate between apps, control the power and volume, understand charging the battery, and multitask while waiting for it to charge.”
- Getting smarter: “I am in awe of how smarter these amazing children are getting right before my eyes.”
- Resourcefulness: “Resourcefulness is the new smart. With technology and the power of the crowd and the cloud, the game has changed. Survival has always depended on problem-solving, especially social-problem solving. These days problem solving is faster and more complex, and our brains need to keep up.
“Yes, you are bad parent if you hand your child a tablet, and they never do anything but play on it, but there is no reason why a computer has to be the ONLY thing a child does in the world.”
Post Script: Let’s not be so simplistic as to think that Nick’s nephew is preparing for a career flying drones for the military. Throughout history children have grown up drawing pictures and gone on to be investment bankers and doctors, grown up on farms and gone on to careers in the city, grown up racing cars and gone on to be lawyers and administrators. I know a five-year-old who has been an authority on vacuum cleaners (can’t tell you why) since he was three, but for all we know he will grow up to be a computer programmer and/or a stay-at-home Dad homeschooling his ten children and half-a-dozen of his neighbors’ children.
For generations children have thrived on fairy tales told to them by adults. I would hate to see this practice come to an end, because of the many ways fairy tales prepare a human being for life. Having kids make up their own fairy tales does not mean that reading a child a story before he goes to bed has to come to an end.
With new technology we are all in this together—all ignorant together—and kids know things adults don’t. Today, to be smart all generations have to discuss together and learn together. We can often count on a child to be stricter than we would be. Don’t restrict; collaborate.