Sitting on the sofa one evening my husband picked up his phone and started scrolling. A mere thirty seconds later he started smiling and laughing. “It’s a great time to be alive, Kara, a great time to be alive. I have an image in my head from when I was a kid and I just searched and found the exact scene and figured out what movie it was.” It’s incredible what technology can do.
Incredible is such an understatement. We can ask our devices to search for information, do simple tasks, and fill the gap for us.
“Hey Siri, what time is it?”
“Hey Siri, where are you?” or my favorite:
“Hey Siri, call Chris on speaker” (as I am trapped under a baby three feet from my phone).
We live in the age where “OK, Google” gets us an answer within seconds and talking to some girl named Alexa makes mysterious packages appear on our porch two days later.
Our family has even discussed virtual reality capabilities and how magical it would be to let our kids steps into any scene they might want to learn about and what a valuable asset that could be for their learning.
We can buy 3D printers to make anything we dream up, VR glasses to experience things previous generations never imaged, and harness technology to make our life so easy that it’s effortless. It’s true, in the digital age we are given every possibility at our fingertips.
And I am sure that so many of you might be nodding your heads “I know where she’s going with this, family time, real life experiences, and simple life skills like knowing math instead of relying on a calculator yada yada yada.”
In fact there’s this underlying danger to technology lurking within all of our pockets, around our homes, and everywhere we go. And while many times it’s hard to get away from, we absolutely have to have the discussion of what’s healthy and appropriate risk.Download your free copy of 11 discussion questions to talk to your kids about the benefits and dangers of technology.
The most important thing about technology we’re not discussing with our kids
When I was still teaching, I would stand before 125 of my very own sophomore students each year in their second semester of world history and pose the question “How did the Industrial Revolution have a profound positive or negative impact on the world?” From there we always had lively discussions applauding the advancements in technology.
Students started talking about cell phones, about transportation, the internet, modern medicine, and more and how they stemmed from the Industrial Revolution. It was such an overwhelming response that it was a great change for our world.
“But what negatives are there?” I would ask.
Crickets. No one was talking. They were all thinking long and hard with few to no answers.
I would continue asking short, probing questions…
Lack of quality in mass produced items?
Big business versus local business?
…What else? Are these negatives?”
Why couldn’t they think of the negative impacts of technology both then and now?
Why was this such a hard exercise?
They were digital natives, meaning they had always known technology as a key part of their lives. Whereas, I was a digital immigrant who remembered sitting in my living room floor waiting for dial up to connect to the internet in 1995.
And because they were digital natives, no one was having these discussions with them and it’s all they had ever known. They weren’t trained for the downsides of technology, only for how it could help them.
In fact, even when a sexting scandal broke out, parents and faculty quickly swept it under the rug, trying to bury it for the sake of the girl. But why not have an assembly, why not widely open the discussion so that every dinner table parents know it’s a problem at the school and can start talking about how a simple text doesn’t just live and die, but can be saved and shared indefinitely.
We absolutely have to discuss with kids of all ages the ramifications of using technology.
We must talk about how pictures, and videos, and even texts can be saved indefinitely and dispersed globally.
We must raise our kids to use technology wisely and know how to use it for good, for change, for reasons that matter.
We 100%, absolutely, must have these discussions when they’re toddlers, when they’re in elementary school, when they’re in the awkward middle school years, and when they’re teens. We have to raise them, especially as they’re old enough to understand the deeper meanings to know every side of technology just as if we were teaching sex education. Is sex good? Can it be satisfying? And are there risks? OF COURSE.
Likewise with technology, we should not just jump into bed with the newest, latest, and shiniest piece of technology. Especially if we don’t know anything about it. Especially without assessing risks.
Teaching our kids that there are ALWAYS two sides to using technology
Marketing always shows us what is great about a product. In fact there are plenty of commercials touting how a watch saved lives or how simply looking at a phone can unlock their bank account without a password.
That’s great and can be extremely useful if you have a life-threatening condition or maybe if someone has memory issues and cannot remember passwords. But we should be also telling our kids that these companies use the information we give them. So what’s the appropriate risk and what’s the fine print?
These are just a few of the new pieces of technology and only a surface level evaluation of the good and the bad, and I’ve already mentioned facial recognition:
- DNA tests give us so much information about our heritage and our health… but we’re also allowing companies to use it for research and sometimes insurance companies can deny someone because of their genetics. Is this a risk or sacrifice we are willing to take?
- Virtual Reality allows us to see and experience things we would otherwise not be able to…but we’re sacrificing experiencing with others (like the commercial of a whole family sitting with VR glasses on instead of enjoying watching the Olympics together). Is this a risk or sacrifice we are willing to take?
- Robots can efficiently work and get jobs done faster…but they take away jobs and reduce the skills sets we have as a general population. Is this a risk or sacrifice we are willing to take?
So let me again say, YES. Technology is good. And it can even be great. It can be life-saving and life-changing.
But let’s talk about it with our kids. Let’s help guide them to judge what is appropriate risk and sacrifice.
11 questions about technology to best prepare our kids to use cell phones, computers, and technology safely & wisely
“How does this enhance my life and what am I giving up to use this?”
This is a basic list of pros and cons. Do the benefits outweigh the negatives? It’s the very first place we should start with kids of any age.
Jenn, my 5 year old, and I discuss often when TV is appropriate or when using the iPad is helpful and when it’s not. So the answers to these questions could also be time relevant.
In fact, we have a reading tablet that reads books to my kids as they turn the page. It not only helps teach them to read, but fills in when I have other obligations or when I am driving. But time reading with my kids is important because it’s quality time and also helps them learn to read and sound out words.
“What would I do without it and how would my life be different?”
There are a lot of applications for this question from simply using time differently to spending quality time with friends and family. Maybe this also exposes a desire to learn a new skill or explore something further.
“What could I learn to do if this tech wasn’t available?”
As previously mentioned, evaluating technology can reveal a lot about who we are, what we need, and what we desire. I think we all remember the days of our math teacher telling us that we need to learn to do the math before using the calculator. And, yeah, I am thankful I can effectively do algebra and trigonometry in my head. It matters in the moments of trying to maneuver a couch into our second floor or when trying to hit the last ball int he corner pocket when playing pool.
But maybe it goes beyond just math, and for our kids, I think it will.
Even simple skills like knowing how to tell time instead of asking a machine. (We have effectively even moved beyond digital and analog time telling because our devices will tell us without even knowing how to read).
This is actually maybe the most important question because if we can equip our kids to learn, we can help them to be technologically literate but not dependent.
“What in life is more important to me than using this?”
If it consumes time, what would I rather be doing?
Maybe learning to ski instead of using VR to pretend ski? Maybe playing a board game with the family instead of playing against the computer. So on and so forth.
“Would I want everyone to know this if it got out?”
This goes for more than just those nude selfies. We tend to be keyboard warriors and say things we regret. In fact, a nurse was fired for a tweet on her personal Twitter account. So even if we lock down social media and have that false sense of security, screenshots can be shared and it can directly impact our lives.
“Am I proud of how I use this technology?”
Cyber bullying, sexting, pictures, videos, memes, and more. We have to teach our kids to be good digital citizens for the sake of everyone, but also for themselves.
We have to teach our kids that if we put it online, it will always be there. Even if deleted, screenshots, back-up services, and caches keep logs and it can always still exist somewhere. So everything we do using the technology and services we have is something we have to be proud of.
“Does this technology change who I am and am I ok with that?”
My husband and I talked about how his mood and attitude changed when he was playing video games. He knew it and recognized it, but he had to ask if he was ok with it? Did he like how he was when he played?
Likewise, when using technology, does it change our attitudes?
I love using my camera. It makes me feel happy. SO I am going to keep using my camera.
I enjoy being in moms’ groups online, but sometimes they make me feel angry. So I may leave some.
Have them evaluate what it’d doing to who they are. Maybe they say things online they would never ever utter to someone’s face. They need to be able to recognize that… good or bad.
“Will this put me or anyone else in danger?”
This doesn’t have to seem so “tinfoil hat” conspiracy-y. It can simply be that maybe they should post a picture of where they live on social media.
But more controversially, yes, maybe using the fingerprint scanner on a cell phone gives your prints to a company. Some people genuinely are not ok with that. And some are. It’s simply a discussion that we need to have because as information is disseminated further and more quickly, they need to know what kinds of information they’re giving out.
In fact, the chain letters and surveys that were popular in the days of MySpace? Those have a lot of answers to bank security questions today. But did I ever hesitate to tell someone the town I was born in, my father’s middle name, or my first pet’s name? Nope. Because I didn’t think it would impact my life.
“What advice would you give to someone else new to using it?”
If a child is already using a source of technology, they have learned about the ins-and-outs. So it’s good to get perspective from them to know the downsides and benefits they see after becoming familiar with it.
“How will this benefit or hinder me in the long term?”
I sat with a mom recently who had sheltered her tweens from the internet and wondered if she had done the right thing because she knew they would have to use it eventually. So she was working with them to see what they could learn to use now to have better skills in understanding how things like social media can impact a marketing career.
“How has technology changed in the last year and where can I see it going?”
As kids get older and technology moves faster, let’s always remember this question. If we are proactive and forward-thinking, we’re more capable of understanding its impact our our lives and how to use what we have now more responsibly.
Start the family discussion about technology today.
No matter if your kids are in the 3-5 range or are already tweens and teenagers wielding their own phone, it’s an important topic to continually talk about. If you see a question you would add, comment at the bottom of the post! The questions you see above are available in a free download for you. Simply slick on the image below so that you can get it sent directly to your email address.
More posts about kids and technology & raising teens:
- 5 little precautions are all you need to know your child is safe on a cell phone
- What soft skills & are proven to help teens excel in the future?
- The simplest ways to make the best of the defiant child years
Kara is an author, wife, and mother of 3 children living in Boston, MA. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and even helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!