As far as the children of today are concerned, the Internet has always been around. They are playing video games on it or using Skype to talk to far-off relatives or even doing their school projects. Children are being introduced to the Internet as early as kindergarten. They learn about their teacher’s website along with her name and do research for their projects on the computers in the school library. Learning how to use this technology that has become such an integral part of our lives is a necessary skill that needs to be taught, and moderated, to children today.
The Age of Internet
By 2011, six out of ten children from the ages three to 17 used the Internet at home, roughly 58%. Almost 83% had a computer at home. There has been a steady rise in the number of children with access to computers at home. It has risen from 15% in 1984 to 76% in 2003. Consequently the number of children using Internet at home has risen from 11% in 1997 to 58% in 2011. 36% of eight to eighteen year olds have access to a computer in their bedroom and as many as 33% have Internet access. The youth of today spends nearly an hour-and-a-half apart from schoolwork on the computer surfing various social media sites.
We are living in an age when the process of teaching and learning is being enhanced in ways previously thought impossible without technology. Schools are giving students their own devices to access information, participate in courses, do research and homework, as well as engage classmates. It can safely be said that schools, soon, will be wired for an improved learning and teaching experience. But these tools of technology are not the end, but a means to help the children learn the skills that will propel them towards careers benefiting society.
There are definitely implications to letting kids as young as 5 or 6 have access to such technology. Growing cases of cyber-bullying or child abuse online are but a few cases. Just as we guide kids about issues of safety, conduct, manners and decorum, we should also ensure that they know the protocol of online behaviour before they get online. Laws like the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) require schools to teach the children about online safety and responsibility.
What Can Parents Do
Talk to Your Child – Parents should take an active interest in what their child is doing on the computer or the Internet. Just like they want to know of their kids’ whereabouts and the company they keep, similar interest should be shown in learning of their online activities.
Talk about the Rules with Your Child – You and your child together should develop rules about acceptable and safe behaviour for all electronic media. Be it the television, the laptop, or the tablet.
Check out the Internet – Try and assess the pros and cons of the websites your child visits. Most online activities are beneficial and help young people with similar interests interact.
Talk to Other Parents – Talk to other parents about how they discuss technology and its uses with their children.
Connect with the School – Parents should work with their kid’s school and school district to help develop a class educating the parents about the ground rules on usage of equipment like laptops, computers, tablets etc. as well as policies on electronic aggression and the resources available to parents.
Educate Yourself – Stay updated about new devices and websites your child is using. Talk to your child regularly and explore the technology for yourself.
Introduce Them to Safe Websites – The aim with exposing younger children to technology is to shield them from exposure to harmful content and set rules to keep their online enthusiasm within reasonable bounds. Take recommendations for such sites from teachers and other parents and look them up with your child.
Keep the Computer Visible – Making sure that the laptop or computer is in your vicinity and visible gives you more control over the online activities of your child. Set clear limits on the amount of time that can be spent by children on the computer.
Make It a Family Activity – Children love to take on a teaching role. If you are not savvy around technology ask your child to coach you, or show you what they have been up to online.
Set Downloading Rules – Warn the children against downloading anything without your permission. There are many programs and plug-ins that threaten the integrity of your system and are hugely popular on peer-to-peer networks used by teens.
Explain Online Shopping to Children – Avoid giving children the use of credit cards online, it is a gateway to financial disaster.
What Can Schools Do
Almost 70% of middle school students use laptops for learning, 66% use desktops and 47% use smart phones. These figures jump to 75%, 65% and 60% for high school students. This makes it imperative for schools to regulate the use of technology among kids.
Boost Parent Leadership – Begin discussions in the PTO or the PTA about safe and responsible online use by students at school and home. Form an advisory group which can determine where to get started or get an expert to help you out. There are many free and reputable sources available which help parent and teaching communities to keep a better check on the laptop/computer and Internet usage of kids.
Communicate with the Parents – If the school is starting with the use of computers in classrooms make it a part of an open-house or parent-teacher nights. This will help the parents get a better idea of what their children are being taught.
Be Clear with Parents on the Repercussions of Misuse of Technology – When parents sign the school’s Code of Conduct and Acceptable Use Policies (AUP), it makes them aware of what constitutes a transgression of the policy, how it will be handled and how it will reflect on your child’s record.
Be Creative in Your Efforts - Schools and parents should not limit their discussions to being safe and responsible with technology. The best aspect of these technologies is the amount of ease they offer in learning and teaching. Ways must be found to use these technologies with families and steps should be taken to encourage them to use it together for school-driven activities, events, fund-raisers, or other projects.
Embrace the Change
It is not surprising to find a pre-schooler who can barely tie his shoelaces, but as if by instinct, can operate the latest gadget that has come home. Technology can be intimidating for those who were introduced to it late in life. The most important point to keep in mind is this, the job of teaching kids how best to use technology can seem daunting as they seem to be so much better at it than us.
Always be willing to learn along with, or from, your child. Establish trust between yourselves to ensure they are always honest and forthright about their activities with you. There are some definite dangers to children using technology, just like there are dangers to children playing football or other outdoor sports. The most important thing to be kept in mind by both the parents and the teachers here is for what purpose is the technology being used.
Experts worried about how immersed kids are these days in interactive media point to studies linking heavy screen-time to obesity, short attention spans, inability to make real-world friends, dulled imagination, low academic performance and increased aggression. They also argue that digital technology robs kids of the hands-on creative play that is so essential for their development. On the other hand many experts and parents laud the fact that technology makes learning fun, and engages kids actively in exploring and trouble-shooting.
However, even experts who are skeptical about the growing use of technology among children agree with the importance and benefits that it presents. All said and done, learning how to live in this hi-tech world is an essential life-skill that children today require, and it is something for which they need to be carefully guided.
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