Raising High-Tech Kids Safely

Kids today are technology natives. They’ve never known anything but laptops and cell phones and the Internet. The younger ones can navigate their way around a touch screen before they can even speak. And using social media is just a way of life once they’re old enough to log on.

The rest of us non-natives may have adapted to this new era of constant connectivity, but managing children’s use of technology can still be a challenge. We want to make sure they tap into the best parts while avoiding all the pitfalls.

Distraction is one concern.

“Have you ever seen a little kid playing with an iPad?” asks Jeffrey Pratt, PhD, middle school vice principal at Horizon Prep, a Christian school in Rancho Santa Fe. “They become so engaged and excited. They don’t conceive of it as learning.”

In this sense, distraction is a positive thing: your toddler is entertaining himself and developing his brain at the same time. Encourage wee ones by finding and downloading loads of great educational apps. Read reviews from other parents to help guide you, and give the game or tool a test drive if you’re unsure.

Older kids are a little trickier. “They begin to see any kind of obvious learning-related tool as a potentially a task, not necessarily a joy,” points out Pratt.

They’re also at the age when they’re hungry for the app equivalent of junk food. A sensible approach is to manage technology as such. Let them splurge once in a while on something silly, but make sure most of their choices are smart. (Also look for games that disguise the learning part as pure fun!) But don’t let them go overboard.

“Establishing discrete times or time limits for gadgets is very helpful, and it builds a certain discipline that allows for the pursuit of other activities,” says Bob Gillingham, head of the lower school at Francis Parker, a prep school that is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary.

At forward-thinking schools like Horizon Prep and Francis Parker, students use technology all day long to aid in their education. But teachers and administrators have tight control over what students can access, so there’s little risk of inappropriate conduct or contact. At home, parents must put in the extra effort, whether through installing browser filters or keeping an eye on their child’s Facebook page.

“It is perfectly reasonable and appropriate for a parent of a younger student to have access to their account so that they can monitor their child’s activity,” says Paul Barsky, head of Francis Parker Upper School.

“As with every parent-child interaction, if good and consistent skills are developed early on, then this will help the child make prudent choices as they get older,” Barsky continues. “A parent may never be able to keep up with all the new apps and gadgets, but they have control over how they build trust and communication with their child.”   Annamaria Stephens