The 1,2,3's of Tech Ed

By Dr. S

There is no such thing as education without the use of a computer nowadays and how you get your youngster started is an important step in a lifelong process.

Rather than spend too much time dwelling on the sensational hazards from violent predators, which are certainly dangerous, I believe that the biggest and most common danger to most kids comes from poor media habits - learned early in life. These can lead to technology overuse syndromes later in life and other risky behaviors and media abuse – which are now so common.

But the good news is that kids can learn good habits when parents teach them. Parents have the home court advantage to set the tone for a positive and healthy lifetime of technology and media consumption, much as they do teaching good eating, behavior, and hygiene practices. Mere supervision and limit-setting are just not enough.

Here are some tips to get your child started with a healthy technology appetite:

Begin teaching children younger than five years old that technology and media can be helpful and fun, but this takes planning and forethought. The key concept is to approach media as you do nutrition – promote the good and discourage the bad. But you need to do your homework first. Five major growth opportunities need to be balanced according to the child’s age and family’s preferences – and they are: family relationships, socialization, values education, education enrichment, and entertainment.

For example, very young children especially (although this is true for everyone) require a large degree of parent planning and participation. Media life should be part of family life, and not the other way around. So, for kids younger than five, a parent must be present and actively choose content and participate with the child’s media use. And this goes for TV too. Children younger than two years old should only have minimal media exposure - of any type. Of course, as a child starts school, teachers and librarians are great resources to help parents plan kids’ media lives. And don’t forget – your own media habits and how you prioritize your own time is crucial. Texting while parenting can be just as harmful in the long run as texting while driving.

Here are some ideas to get you started working with your little ones:

-Have the child sit on your lap so that you can both see the computer screen. Position yourself so that you can also make eye contact with your child.

-Let the child touch the keyboard and mouse and look at the effect together. Praise your child for connecting what the keys and mouse can do.

-Consider a touch screen monitor or device like the iPad. It is very easy for a child to work with but keep in mind that the child’s motor skills are still developing. You will be amazed though how quickly they catch on. While a touch screen may be easy, it’s also a good idea to teach the child keyboarding and mouse manipulation as a means of hand-eye coordination.

-Go online and browse the software for children. Talk to other parents and teachers and see what they might recommend. And when you do find something valuable, share the information with other parents. Finding age appropriate software can be a challenge for today’s parents.

Remember, this is just another learning experience for you and your child. Enjoy it and have fun.

Dr. S is Dr. Eitan D. Schwarz, M.D., is a pediatric and adolescent psychiatrist and the author of KIDS, PARENTS, AND TECHNOLOGY: An Instruction Guide for Young Families. Dr. S. is a veteran clinician and teacher who practices child, adult, and family psychiatry with or without medication, in the Chicago area. Dr. S is a doctor who knows kids, media, and families. During his nearly 40 years of distinguished practice and teaching in a variety of public, private, and academic settings, Dr. S has been steadily learning about the needs of children and families. Since college at Cornell and medical school at Johns Hopkins, he has also been studying the uses of technology in health care and the practice of medicine. He has taught at the University of Chicago and University of Illinois and is currently on the faculty of Northwestern University. He has recently researched the use of digital media in play therapy with children. To learn more about Dr. S., visit his website: www.mydigitalfamily.org. His book is available in paperback and in all digital forms.

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