children and technology

This weekend I went to Mumsnet Blogfest and had a marvellous time, big thanks to Mumsnet and everyone involved. If you’re following any parent bloggers on twitter or reading their blogs you probably know about the huge response regarding the debate entitled ‘can you be a Mummy blogger and a feminist?’. Two days later and I think that subject has been eaten, digested and regurgitated enough for now, so I’m going to leave it alone. Instead I want to talk about the inspirational speech given by Prof Tanya Byron about children and technology.

None of my children are old enough to use the internet. However they all regularly use games consoles and tablets, and they have done since very young ages. In fact Wonder Girl  has been able to navigate a smart phone since the tender age of 19 months. This has made me feel a little conflicted and unsure how I really feel about the impact these technologies are having on my children.

There is a part of me that yearns for the past. That wishes I could return to a time when older children could go out, alone, and explore the world. I spent many hours exploring the estate that I lived on with my friends, only returning home for lunch. As Prof Byron said on Saturday ‘we’re raising children in captivity’ a fact which probably doesn’t sit comfortably with many parents. There is another part of me, the realist , that understands that this is the future. That children are doing much more learning using computers,  video games, and the internet, than we ever did when we grew up. I believe this trend is here to stay and that we need to adapt and learn or we do our children a disservice.

A lot of children are more tech savvy than their parents. They’ve grown up with these technologies and use them instinctively whilst many of us grown-ups are still struggling to understand the F buttons at the top of our keyboards. What they don’t have, though, as they navigate online socialising, and research, is an adults mind, experience and risk management skills. So, as Prof Byron indicated and I fully agree, we need to arm ourselves with more skills so that we’re equipped to help them.

Rather than fear and knee jerk banning, we need to teach and guide. We need to take their passion for technology and help them use it sensibly, and usefully. I want to treat this as I would any other parenting challenge. I want my children to feel able to have an open dialogue with me about the types of sites they’re visiting and the people they’re encountering. I need to teach them about trolls and online bullying as my parents taught me about school bullies and refusing lifts from strangers. I don’t think these issues are new, people are still people, and with confidence in using the technology we have the life experience to guide, just as our parents guided us.

I want to see the positive in my children’s technology use, because it’s here to stay. Super Kid has gained an astonishing amount of general knowledge from the programs he uses on the tablet. Robo Boy gets help with phonics using apps designed for this purpose. Wonder Girl uses apps which begin to teach her the alphabet, early counting skills and allow her to use her imagination to make pictures and collages. Technology is here to stay and rather than shy away the Purple family are embracing and enjoying it.

What do you think? Is technology something to be feared, a window in which predators can target our children in their homes? Or does it have potential to be useful, if approached in the right way? Leave me a comment.