Kids Got Game

The Tech That Binds

Given what I do, some people are surprised that my husband and I have generally avoided any screen time for my 14-month-old daughter so far, with the exception of Skyping with family and a handful of app experiences. But she is quickly approaching the age where I can no longer pretend that technology doesn't exist.

Given what I do, some people are surprised that my husband and I have generally avoided any screen time for my 14-month-old daughter so far, with the exception of Skyping with family and a handful of app experiences. But she is quickly approaching the age where I can no longer pretend that technology doesn’t exist, especially in my house, where products with apples on them outnumber people by at least 2.3 to 1, and that’s before I stop at the fruit cart to buy consumable apples.

I’m often asked what amount of technology I recommend for young kids, especially those under two, and my answer is always the same. Parents have to arm themselves with all the information they can and then make the decision that’s right for them. The choice of what’s an appropriate amount of screen time for your child, as well as what that screen time will consist of, is intensely personal, as are most parenting decisions. Some decide that tv is fine, especially when trying to put dinner on the table. Others steer clear of screens completely. In our case, we decided to wait on screen time until she started to show an interest in technology and then we’d take it from there.

So now we’re facing those days, where her interest in all things tech evolves beyond a simple glance to a full-out tantrum if I don’t hand over my iPhone. (I was just checking the weather! Who knew that I should’ve taken the phone in the other room?!) But that also means I’m spending a lot of time thinking about what kinds of technology interactions are appropriate for kids.

Enter the joint statement from the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Childhood Learning and Children’s Media entitled, “Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8.”

The statement, which is developed for educators but is also helpful for parents to consider, they acknowledge the conflicting evidence on the value of technology in children’s lives. They also wisely acknowledge that not all screens are created equal. The paper covers a broad range of ideas for approaching technology with children, but they boil it down to six recommendations. Two of which are really fascinating to me.

Recommendation #3: “Prohibit the passive use of television, videos, DVDs, and other non-interactive technologies and media in early childhood programs for children younger than 2, and discourage passive and non-interactive uses with children ages 2 through 5.” (Page 11)

Recommendation #4: “Limit any use of technology and interactive media in programs for children younger than 2 to those that appropriately support responsive interactions between caregivers and children and that strengthen adult-child relationships.” (Page 11)

Basically, they recognized that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under 2 while still acknowledging that almost all parents use some amount of screen media with their young children. Instead of making anyone feel guilty about that, they found a way to walk the line between what research tells us and the realities of being a parent, particularly by differentiating between passive and interactive screen time.

In other words, they recommend that if you must expose your child to a screen before the age of 2, please try to make it an interactive experience that you do together. I highly recommend you take some time to read the statement and consider the recommendations and what they mean for you personally.

For me, I’ve been gnawing on what I consider quality interactive technology experiences with my daughter. There’s at least three things I’ve come up with so far.

* Talk while playing and talk about playing. Dialogue while playing. Call it co-viewing, dialogic reading/gaming/playing, or whatever else you want, but there’s no reason that a digital experience can’t have dialogue. Whether it’s making predictions of what’s going to happen or stopping to talk about what we just did, every moment, not just with technology, is an opportunity to draw connections to other things.

* Show her that all that hard work leads to a great victory. Fiero is that awesome moment when you beat the boss stage, particularly after you’ve died a bazillion times after being sooooo close! (Nicole Lazzaro is largely credited with bringing the term into general gaming discourse.) Fiero is about trial and error leading to mastery. If we stick with a frustrating problem enough times, we’ll find a solution and reach that fiero moment. We can solve challenging problems together.

* Make our own games together. Remember when I said programming makes me cry? There’s one thing that will help me get over that. I want to make digital toys for and **with** my daughter. She’s powerful motivation. Granted, she’s too young to make any requests at the moment. But when the day comes that we’re playing and she says, “Let’s make a game where the bears are hiding under tutus,” or whatever her request may be, I want to be able to oblige. That’s my long-term technology goal for her — to have a positive experience with computer programming because she spent time programming with her mom.

(Maybe she’ll have a parallel, positive experience with econometrics with her dad, who happens to be an economist…)

In the end, regardless of whether we use tech to talk, play, or make, my goal for my daughter’s technology use is for it to be a positive experience that we share together.

We’d love to hear your ideas on what constitutes positive, shared experiences with tech! Give us a yell at Or if you’re in Toronto for INPlay this week, say hi!

Photos @ Jean Pichot,

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