Back-to-school in a digital world

At the beginning of the school year my oldest child started Kindergarten. At orientation I toured the school with the other anxious parents and bounced around the various rooms where we were told how the children would spend their day at school. Taking in a deep breath, I started to relax.  Ahhh, I smiled to myself. The familiar sights, sounds, and smells of school… then I met her amazing computer teacher.

Immediately, my mind went back to my first computer class. I was in 7th grade, not Kindergarten.  My school could afford to purchase only a few computers for us to use and there was an entire process in place to be sure everyone had a turn. I specifically remember each member of my small class had to pick a time slot to play an educational game or two, then switch. After we completed our scheduled game-time, we passed the mouse to the next person. It sounds silly, but at the time having a computer in the back of our classroom was a really big deal.

But this was different… my 5-year-old child already has access to an entire computer lab. Every student already had their own computer to learn on and use at the same time. It’s eye opening to say the least.

In the spirit of feeling old, I tried to remember what I was doing when I started Kindergarten. More than likely, I was picking my favorite crayons out of the bin or deciding who was going to be my new best friend. I wasn’t thinking about computer class.

Times have changed. Now computers come with the territory of starting school. Our children are attending computer classes in their first year of school. That’s not to say they stopped playing outside or reading books – but kids today definitely engage in more screen time than their parents did as kids.

When I got home I was craving a moment of peace. After all, my mind was spinning from Kindergarten orientation, and I was still trying to figure out which school supplies we needed to buy. Distracted by my thoughts, I handed my toddler my phone and he swiped.

He knew how to unlock my smartphone.

But in all honesty, I bet you’re not impressed because you probably know a toddler who can do it too.

I clapped and thought “wow that’s pretty good”!  Then a feeling of shock rushed over me. How was my toddler able to easily pick up and operate my phone? I didn’t think he was watching that closely; but he was. And then it dawned on me. Of course he knows how to expertly operate my phone, and I’m the one who taught him.

It is a little embarrassing to type out, but I never thought I had to learn how to manage screen time with my toddler and 5-year-old.

Here is the startling truth: our kids are seemingly born with phones in their hands and we are the ones who put them there. I really shouldn’t be that surprised Kindergarten offered computer lab.

I’ve been using a smartphone for a little over 10 years, and I’m only in my 30s. I did grow up with technology, but I definitely put it in my child’s hands.

Technology has been part of my kids’ lives from their very beginning. Because of that, neither of them knows a world without internet, tablets, or smartphones. I have to admit, realizing my kids will never know a world without endless information at their fingertips makes me a little sad.

I don’t have to go into a tangent, but I’m going to because I’m sure every parent (or person) over the age of 30 feels this way too.

“In my day, I spent hours outside riding my bike, building forts, and using my imagination to play. Kids these days don’t know what it means to be bored and figure out a new game or fill their time.”

With that first swipe I was seeing the world through my children’s eyes. I also began frantically searching for the perfect parenting control software because goodness knows what type of content  my children could stumble on with all that swiping.

The level of access at their tiny fingertips, to literally everything the world wide web has to offer, is terrifying. 

But it feels familiar too, doesn’t it? My oldest child grew up with endless access to my phone and the household tablet. I’ve never felt like I needed to limit her time on it since I assumed she would tire of sitting in one place.

Man, was I wrong. Not only was she glued to her tablet; she was also learning how to navigate the digital world like a techy ninja. It really made me think… We all know the rise of technology has made our world infinitely better. How does endless access to technology influence childhood?

What about our kids experiencing green time aka spending hours outside in the blistering sun with nothing more than good ole Mother Nature to entertain them? Personally, I can see how technology is taking away from their want to consume green time. They become totally wrapped up in screen time.

Being bored on a hot summer day, using the natural world and your imagination to create epic memories feels like a childhood rite of passage. Growing up I crafted forts out of cardboard and went on more adventures in the backyard than I can count. Is technology standing in my kids’ way from making those same imaginative choices?

Because technology has inundated our lives in every way possible, a simple childhood rite of passage is even harder for our children to experience.

If you’re feeling the sudden urge to remove every single techy-gadget from the family home, let me stop you right there. I’m not here to scare you into throwing all your gadgets way or ban them from your children’s hands. Instead I’m going to talk about how to help your children experience plenty of green time while enjoying a healthy dose of screen time.

Tell me I’m not alone with this thought… Some days I literally fantasize about sneaking off to a hotel, booking a room, and binge-watching TV, and eating food while it’s still hot. Sorry guys, once kids come along a woman’s version of “fantasy night” no longer matches yours (mostly).

I’m just like you. That means from time to time I think about how amazing it would be to zone out on a movie or take a second to make dinner. That’s when I turn on the TV, put an iPad in their hands or give them my phone.

But recently, I’ve been trying to get better about allowing my children to be bored and figure it out. Figuring it out starts with empowerment. Access to endless amounts of information also means we’re inundated with thousands of articles warning us against the dangers of technology in the home. Confusing? Yes. But it’s our reality.

Those warnings and facts don’t stop us from passing off the tablet or smartphone to our toddlers for the sake of having a quiet minute or filling the gap in education while they’re at home. Why? Because we also see the tremendous benefits of utilizing technology from an early age. That’s why we install amazing apps and put technology into our homes to control our use of technology… it all works together! 

The reward of technology in our homes far outweighs the risk, and Techden is tipping the scales even further. If this is your first time ever hearing about TechDen, let me enlighten you. It’s the only smart charging station of its kind that not only acts as a home for all your devices, but also teaching the entire family healthier screen habits.                            

They’re helping parents (like you and me) control the amount of time devices are in their tiny hands and ultimately the stream of content. Because whether our children are playing a game or watching YouTube, they’re constantly consuming the information thrown their way.

We’re raising a generation that will never know life without the Internet, smartphones, and immediate access to literally everything. This advantage poses a new parenting challenge. How do we fit in family time without having a constant distraction literally in hand?

Technology taking a front seat in their lives is literally changing the way their brains work. It is imperative that we teach our children how to navigate and regulate it.

What’s even more mind-blowing is the next generation will be significantly smarter simply because of the resources at their fingertips. Think about it: Those sweet little faces looking back at you have the power to learn, read, and know anything because of the technology of today.

Empowering the next generation to adopt a healthy balance of screen time vs. green time is more than setting your family free from the technology struggle. Empowerment is a process of development.

Developmentally speaking, teaching children to self-regulate screen time supports learning. Learning self-regulation hones core executive functioning skills, such as working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. Thats a huge bonus because executive functioning skills are the mental tools out brains use to control our behavior.

Inviting technology into our homes has been both a blessing and a curse. Parenting today is no easy task, as many of us have endured a huge learning curve when it comes to navigating screen time vs. green time and learning how to fully unplug. So if you’re drowning in a sea of screens, there’s hope.

Not all heroes wear capes; some create screen time apps and smart charging stations. These are the tools that give our children the chance to take full advantage of the technology of today while empowering them in more ways than one. Our children are growing up with technology, and we’re teaching them to thrive alongside it.

Megan Cahak is a contributing TechDen writer, mom of two, firefighter wife, and is the owner of a copywriting company specializing in supporting small business growth online and in real life. Behind her big business dreams is a woman on a mission to make others laugh and nod their head in solidarity when talking kids & technology, free-range parenting (that’s a thing), and the ‘good ole days’ of growing up in the late 90s, early 2000s. Unrelated, Megan also drinks an entire pot of coffee a day and show no signs of slowing down.