You may have grown up in a world that was very different from today’s, in terms of technological advancement.
Perhaps, there were only a few television channels or you vividly remember the days of black and white broadcasting, when ‘iPad’ or ‘Google it!’ was not in the vocabulary.
But how different was your experience of childhood from that of today’s children?
Are you worried about how children and young people are using digital technology so much more during this digital age?
Do you think it can only be good for their learning?
The access levels to the technology available to many children today are greater than in any previous generation, and it is more specifically designed to capture their imaginations.
There is a heated debate as to how the digital influx is shaping children’s development and experience, and whether some children are missing out if their homes don’t have smartphones or access to the internet.
Childhood is a time of rapid change. Some of these changes are obvious, such as height gain, language ability, and physical dexterity.
Others are less obvious, such as how children make sense of the information in their environment.
Social scientists try to understand every aspect of children’s development, including how children learn, think and interact with those around them, and how their personalities and temperaments emerge.
How is digital technology changing childhood, and how can adults keep track of their children’s experiences online?
The entertainment and easy navigation available with tablets and smartphones has made them attractive to children.
Touch-screen interfaces mean that digital technologies are now accessible to children as young as three years.
The volume of digital technology available to my young son is massively different from that of my childhood times.
As a parent, I have found it difficult to make sense of media reports and research findings on this controversial subject.
Is technology beneficial or detrimental to child development? Does screen time lead to increased distraction, obesity, and loneliness?
Or does it offer opportunities for autonomy and experimentation beyond anything imagined when I was growing up?
As the generation gap widens between adults’ and children’s understanding of new technologies, how will we protect them from the risks while allowing them to benefit from the opportunities new technologies offer?
And how might technology hinder children’s physical, social and cognitive development and how might it simultaneously provide an exciting environment for learning?
To understand how children change and develop, their abilities are often judged against developmental milestones.
Such include steps in acquiring language (babbling, talking), cognition (thinking, reasoning, problem-solving), motor coordination (crawling and walking) and social skills (identity, friendships and attachments).
Technology has become part of our lives and those of our children in the form of computers, mobile devices, and smartphones among others.
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It is important to note that more children are increasingly having their own mobile phones or device such as a tablet, where they watch television on their own devices, play digital games for a few hours per week, and use websites such as YouTube.
Various research findings have revealed that children constitute a third of internet users across the world.
These technologies are a new phenomenon in our children’s lives, the way radio and television might have been new during our childhood days.
These technologies have raised concerns and ongoing debate about potential benefits and harms, especially when used at a young age.
The conversation on the benefits and harms of digital technologies to our children has attracted news headlines all over the world, with such headlines as “Is watching video games changing children’s brain and their general nervous system?”
However, what most of us might not be aware of is that all these concerns are not new; they have been with us for decades since the invention of the radio and television.
It is equally critical to note that, like books, toys, exercising and traveling, technology is part of a larger ecosystem; it is an additional resource in the environment in which our children need as they grow and develop.
As parents, teachers and guardians, more often than not we get worried, uncomfortable and even frown at our children when we spot them interacting and getting enticed by new technologies.
It is advisable to pause and think: are we aware of what our children are doing with technologies, and what they may be feeling or learning when interacting with them?
And if so, have we provided some guidance and support to our children about how they should use technology in order for them to get the most out of it?
Parents, teachers and other stakeholders, it is up to us – the adults, to closely monitor how our children are interacting with technologies, what they are watching or playing, and what their overall experience looks like.
Equally, it is upon us to ensure that technologies are enriching our children and supporting their learning experiences and holistic character formation and development.
The Writer is a Communication and Media Practitioner based in Kisii. He also works for The Scholar Media Africa as a Reporter based in the Nyanza Offices, Kisii.