Kids and Technology

Talking with my mother-in-law a few days ago, she asked me which generation I belong to. Being born in 1980, I’m the very first year of Generation Y (Millennials), and so I received many benefits from both generation X and Y, such as being born into a home with computers and finding a professional career relatively easily.

In 1988, my Dad brought home an Amiga 500 computer. It was set up in our kitchen at first, and I have fond memories of playing Marble Madness on the colour screen with a joystick. My Dad also borrowed computer magazines from the library, and spent hours typing in programs to compile and play them. I typed stories in the word processor, and printed them out for my teacher. I used a paint program, played cards and Batman, and drove fast cars in Test Drive. I didn’t realize how lucky I was at the time.

By Bill Bertram – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, Link

We got our first modem in 1994, when I was 14. Using the internet at that time was incredible. Even the simplest websites blew my mind. I recall finding David Letterman’s “homepage” on and reading through his Top Ten lists. I spent a lot of time on chatrooms when I was 14, meeting people from all over the world. I hung out in French Canadian chats, practicing my French. I once entered a chat called “Boys Room”, which, after introducing myself, I was told that it might not be appropriate for me. I met my first and only online girlfriend, someone named Trish from Nanaimo, B.C. It was a wild new world.

Growing up with technology in my house, I saw issues first hand. My brother used the computer so much that my parents needed to use tokens to regulate the time he spent playing Civilization. I would stay on the computer late at night as a young teenager, well past any reasonable hour, unsupervised in chatrooms. Such chatrooms no longer exist as they did in 1995, for good reason. (WBS Chat was revived in 2009.)The challenges that faced my parents were brand new; no generation had experienced this incredible opportunity before either.

I’ve taught four years of grade 6 students who are also digital natives. They had $500 iPads, iPhones, Samsung Galaxys, and grew up with social media accounts from age 10. They took photos of themselves constantly, and were two steps ahead of anyone above 25 in downloading the new hot app. Flappy Bird month was terrible! Some of my students had no boundaries on their technology usage, while others had strict policies at home regarding content and time usage. I helped them handle social media bullying, seeing first hand the cruelty that children can inflict on one another online. Many kids also used social media to build each other up, complimenting each other on Instagram. It was a great chance to see the benefits and challenges that my own children will face as they mature.

As I now raise my own children, who are even more digital natives than I was, I get to see a totally new perspective. They touch every screen that they see, with the expectation that it’s responsive. They ask us to “pause” the television at Grandma and Grampa’s house when they need to leave, thinking that all programming is on-demand. Finding the sweet spot, where we maximize the benefits and minimize the risk, has taken some forethought and discussion between Jocelyn and I. How much “screen time” is too much? What is quality screen time?

Our kids have limits on how much time they spend watching LEGO Star Wars, playing Angry Birds, and watching Netflix. I think we say “no” more often than we say “yes”. Presently, the iPad is seeing much more usage than it did at home in Edmonton. We’re travelling and homeschooling, so the use of our technology is much wider ranging. Our 5-year old iPad serves as learning tool, library and research centre for both kids. The kids also listen to an audiobook chapter every night, something that helps their transition to sleep.

We’ve run into some occasional challenges, expected and unexpected. Our six-year old daughter came home from school, asking for a cell phone because her friend has one. We had to intentionally desensitize our kids to “scary” television shows and movies (such as anything with dramatic tension, as in any G-rated movie) because we limited their television significantly before age three. We say no to our kids, a lot.

I know there are challenges to come. Social media is hard for adults to navigate; it’s not a wonder that children use social media to bully each other. The gravitational pull toward that glowing screen is so strong, it’s hard to resist. I’d love for our children to self-limit their screen time, but that’s not going to happen.

Despite these challenges, I want my children to be as comfortable as I am with technology. I want my children to be able to say “yes” and “no” to technology, with intention. I want my children to be aware of eroding online privacy. I want my children to be aware of the implications of their choices with technology. Technology can be an amazing tool to learn, create, communicate, and entertain. The benefits can outweigh the risks, with planning, education, and guidance.