Monday, August 19, 2013

We Need To Teach Our Kids That Technology Is Great, But It's Not Everything

As a kid growing up in rural New Jersey, I got to play outside a lot. I used to spend hours and hours walking or riding on trails, catching frogs at the pond around the corner, or just having elaborate sword (stick) fights with invisible bad guys. I had computers (yes, plural) at home before most people in my community had even warmed up to the idea of a personal computer.  They were occasional playthings for the majority of my childhood, no more or less interesting than my Legos, playing soccer or the vast natural playground that surrounded my home.

Once those computers became connected to something outside of my house--at first to local bulletin board systems (BBS) and later to to dial-up networks and broadband internet--my traditional idea of play quickly disintegrated.  This shift happened when I was in middle school, exacerbating an already awkward and difficult process by introducing me to people and an entire world I would not have known otherwise.

I have been struggling to regain my sense of play and my connection to the outside world ever since. For the most part, I have been losing: the Internet and more recently smartphone and tablet apps have consumed my time and attention. These days, I work full time online running a couple of my own websites and managing social media for several clients: I'm always connected, always tapping away on some device.

This is why, despite being a steadfast advocate for using technology for learning in and out of the classroom, I am equally steadfast in advocating that sometimes you have to turn the damn things off.  Kids need to be given as many opportunities to engage in open play, to go outside, to read and write and be creative without any technological aide.

They need to grow up with the concept that their technology is not their life.  Anyone who has sat around a table at a restaurant or party and realized that everyone at your table is on their smartphone and not talking to one another will understand this.  These devices should be seen as a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.

Kids also need to understand the limits and dangers of this always-connected world.  Online predators, viruses, hackers stealing data, social engineering, government surveillance, "educational" apps that don't teach anything, content they create living online forever... this is just the tip of the iceberg.

We need to teach them these things, both as parents and as teachers.  It is just as important, perhaps moreso, than anything other way we can use these devices to help children learn.  There's no time to lose, either: we are becoming more and more connected, more and more dependent every day.