Why I don’t want to share my lap top (with my children)

This post is by regular contributor Sarah Bendeich of Oesch and Doots.

I don’t share my laptop with my (preschool aged) children. Actually that’s not quite right. We occasionally use the internet for research if the children want to know more about something. Google Images and Wikipedia are the perfect tools for ‘those’ questions – you know, the ones beginning with Muuuummm (or Daaaaaddd). Recent examples heard at our place include:

  • Do all owls have ears that stick up?
  • Is it snowing in Germany today?
  • Why are baby penguins brown?
  • Can you get to Antarctica in a plane?
  • Were there dinosaurs when Nanna was little? (actually I didn’t bother to look that one up)

We also use the computer to look at family photos together, and we like to do those natty little photo slideshow things. But we don’t ‘do’ games or kids websites.

Why not? I’ve been trying to unravel my reasoning and it’s a bit murky, mainly because I don’t know if I’m ‘right’. It’s just an instinct, which sometimes, as a parent, has to be enough.

I feel comfortable with a limited amount of kid’s (non-commercial) TV, although not every day and preferably when the toddler is asleep. The idea of my children using computers for recreation however? It just doesn’t feel right. I should add that my children are two and four. And that given how quickly things change around here, my views may well have shifted by this time next year!

I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority on this one – everywhere I go I see toddlers playing with their parents’ iPhones and most of the children in my social circle can navigate to and around their favourite children’s websites. My nieces and nephews all have DS’s and Wii’s and DVD players in their family cars… There are computers for the four year olds to use during free time at Doots’ kindergarten, and they use an Interactive White Board (IWB) as a group (which I think she finds a bit ho-hum!)

So why is it not for us? Several reasons.

Following their lead
Our two children are chalk and cheese. And there are two very different reasons why I don’t think computer use is beneficial for them.

Doots is an introverted, gentle and imaginative girl. She’s all for peace and quiet and has a pretty low tolerance threshold for loud noises, crowds and hyper atmospheres. Too much stimulation frazzles her.

Avoiding the computer has been easy for Doots. She’s never bored, has a long attention span for open-ended creative activities and she entertains herself freely. So I’ve never really felt the need to resort to computer games to ‘keep her busy’ or to extend her. And if I need to occupy her while I’m cooking dinner for example, a lump of playdough and a few tools or a sheet of paper and some crayons are always failsafe strategies.

Oesch, on the other hand, is all about fast cars, loud sirens and rough and tumble. I can’t imagine him sitting still for long enough to play on a computer. He’s also only just two. I imagine that as he gets older he’ll show interest, but it’s such a sedentary experience that I won’t be encouraging it until he’s at school, and even then it will be restricted.

It’s a poor sensory experience
Young children’s nervous systems are shaped by their own interactions with their world – everything they see, hear, feel, smell and taste develops and strengthens neural pathways in their brain. Rich sensory experiences are really important for a young child’s developing brain, and I just think that using a computer is (a) a poor sensory experience, and (b) a missed opportunity for a richer sensory experience.

Compared with almost any other form of play – building with blocks, playing with dolls, playing with sand or water, riding a bike, rolling on the grass, dressing up, singing, playing with cars, looking at a book, dancing to music, cooking, banging on a drum, modelling with dough, drawing, chatting to a parent, painting – using a computer seems visually over-the-top, lacking in input for the other senses, and with the exception of the mouse hand, requires no movement.

Young eyes and screens
The computer certainly offers lots of visual stimulation but the problem for me is that it’s bright and unnatural, and also that the distance between the screen and the child’s eyes is fixed and constant. As a designer, I used to work at a screen for hours on end (usually leading up to a deadline) and I remember the discomfort… and the yearning to look at a distant horizon, to ‘stretch’ my eyes.

We have evolved to expect a range of different focal lengths, and our eyes can take us from the ‘close work’ of reading or sewing, to scanning the horizon. If a child is playing outside, for example, their eyes are regularly refocussing – from inspecting the detail of a snail’s shell or making a daisy chain, to gazing up at the clouds or spotting an aeroplane, to digging in the dirt, and playing with friends.

Commercial concerns
All parents of young children will know that little ones are REALLY good at recognising brands and logos. I imagine this is because their brains are primed for language acquisition, and to learn how to read. Letters and numbers are symbols after all.

Marketers understand the potential of the preschool audience – it is enthusiastic, uncritical and frighteningly easy to influence*. And the internet is one big advertising-fest, even (or especially) when it comes to kids sites. I have a problem with my children being part of this audience and primed for brand loyalty, and so for me the logical decision for me to just avoid it.

What’s the rush?
At Doots’ school, the kids are issued with MacBooks in Year 5. So by the time they’re 10, they’ll be using a computer every day for school work.

Am I concerned that my kids will be left behind their peers? That they’ll be tech-poor? Not in the slightest – there’s plenty of time for them to catch up. And there will be plenty of new concerns for me to grapple with when they do start! But for me, right now,Β  computer literacy is just not a priority.

How about you? I would really love to hear what you think about computers and young children. Is there a place for computer play at your place? Am I being over the top?

*Consuming Innocence: popular culture and our children, by Karen Brooks.

42 Comments

  1. I am totally with you! This is one thread I had to respond to!!! I don’t think you’re being over the top at all…….. My son is 2 and he gets to watch a bit of tv every now & then – the wiggles have saved me from insanity at dinner times on numerous occasions, but my husband & I aren’t big TV watchers in the first place and the tv is hardly ever on. During the day i prefer music. mr 2 is fascinated with phones tho – i don’t ever let him have mine, but hubby does. we don’t own any gaming consoles – it’s just something both my hubby & myself have never been into. Hubby doesn’t like computers – he’s a builder & a general all round outdoors person – we live rurally and have cattle, horses, chooks, ducks, dogs, cats, budgies, so we do spend a lot of time outdoors. I myself have always worked in an office and use the computer at home now for study, work & yes facebook!! I know how distracting it is – I also know children as young as 4 have their own fb accounts despite you not supposed to be able to have one under 13! I think 13 is too young still (old fuddy duddy?) I also have a 10yo step-son that lives with his mother and we have every 2nd weekend and half school holidays. At his house, he has tv with austar in his room, playstation, xbox, ds & wii and his own mobile phone (and yes he has a fb account) and is allowed to watch M rated tv/movies – he already has glasses for reading, he is doing poorly at school and getting into a lot of trouble and is tired all the time………….. he doesn’t like the initial thought of coming to our house, but once he’s here he loves horse riding, building stuff with dad, visiting nanny & poppy’s farm, and getting to drive the paddock basher around, so, no we won’t be introducing gaming consoles or computers to our little one for as long as we possibly can

    1. Hi Susie, oh how I envy your rural life and all of those reasons to get outside! We’re doing our best to have an outdoorsy lifestyle with a smallish garden on an urban block, in a city that’s cold and wet for much of the year. Today, for example, it’s pouring rain. It sounds as though your step son has a fantastic time when he’s at your place. And I bet that as he grows up he’ll be so thankful for all of those opportunities to really DO things that you gave him.

      We love music during the day too, and giving my 4 year old her own little cd player and access to a small collection of cds has been fantastic for her independence. We have lost a few to scratches, but in her defence that’s probably been her 2yo brother’s doing!

  2. It’s an interesting topic. My daughter is 4 now and she was TV-free until about 2.5. She had some supervised computer time on starfall.com from the time she was not even 1, but I am talking no more than 15 min a day. She never asks to use computer or TV and would rather read (she is a very fluent reader). In my mind computer is less of an evil than TV, but everything is OK in moderation.

    1. I agree, that moderation is key. I think I just haven’t introduced it (even in moderation) because I’m not ready for the snowball effect, and the nagging!

  3. A fabulous post and I agree that television, computers, portable DVD players and the like should be restricted. My 6 year old daughter is the only one to have computer time (when my others are sleeping) and even then it’s the ABC Kids website. I once saw a family of four out to breakfast at a cafe and the parents whipped out a portable DVD player for the two boys to watch at the table, headphones on, no conversation flowing. My mouth hit the floor. To me that is the ultimate in lazy parenting. The world should be seen through exploration, not through a screen… Georgie.

    1. I think my jaw would have been on the floor too! What a missed opportunity for teaching kids about eating out, manners, and yes, conversation. And actually just enjoying each others’ company as a family. Although I usually pack a pencil roll and paper, and some toy cars to distract the kids while we’re waiting for food. But I think it’s a different sort of distraction to a screen somehow… they’re still ‘available’ for interaction but I think a screen cuts them off from the rest of the world.

  4. Lovely post. I admire the thought and love put into your decisions for your children.
    My kiddos do get some TV/computer time, limited to approved media of course. We tend spend less time this way when the weather is more agreeable. Now that spring is here, it is unusual to find my littles in the house, let alone in front of a screen.
    I do agree with your point about giving children richer experiences than they find on a screen. All kids need the opportunity to explore their world. Kids need to play in puddles, run barefoot through the grass, and catch fireflies in the meadow. These experiences ignite their curiosity. All great learning starts with curiosity.
    As a past classroom teacher, I urge all parents to help their children discover the wonder of everyday life. Help your children explore nature. Teach them to ask questions and discover the life stories of an elderly neighbor. Bring them into the kitchen to help you measure ingredients for a cake. All these simple, real life experiences are the building blocks of learning. What a wonderful gift!

    1. Gorgeous comment Fatima. I love the image of chasing fireflies in the meadow – and what a good point about curiosity leading to great learning. I’m sure our curiosity is affected by the way we spend our time – children and adults alike.

      Interesting that you raised the idea of weather. I noticed over summer that my daughter barely picked up a pencil, but now that the weather is turning cooler the interest in drawing and writing has returned.

  5. Francesca says:

    I founds this really interesting, thank you. There’s a lot of talk about TV watching and the reasons to avoid it and often computers are lobbed in as an afterthought. But, you know, the use of computers by our children has different drawbacks and different benefits.

    My eldest son (5yo) discovered computers about a year ago. I limited use to 10 mins a day (and he often wouldn’t use it everyday) until we found the Reading Eggs website. In fact, prior to this point, he liked watching how to put together different configurations of Thomas train track on youtube. This would stimulate a couple of hours of imaginary Thomas play so I didn’t mind. But, like anything visually mesmerising (or soporific!) we had to monitor it.

    A friend introduced me to Reading Eggs because her son of similar age loved to play the reading games. My son was the same. I would be with him as he went through the reading lessons so it allowed us time together and it meant I could help him at any point. He started school this year as a very advanced reader. This is NOT the reason we did it, honestly. I just wanted to find an educational alternative to computer time in the same way as I have always approached TV. It has worked wonders with his confidence and he now tries to read all of his books that we sit down with each night.

    My point is not to promote any programme (I have no affiliation whatsoever) but to suggest that some aspects of computer use are hugely beneficial. It is now an intrinsic part of our children’s world (and no, that doesn’t necessarily make it right or good) but finding your own way of managing it that works well for you and your child is all important.

    I wonder about the girl/boy thing though. I think you raise a really interesting point about what they gravitate towards in terms of play and stimulation.

    Anyway, I’ve always found that balance and boundaries are key when approaching anything with my children.

    Thanks for a stimulating post.

    1. The boy/girl thing is interesting – I’ve noticed that at kinder it does seem to be the boys who gravitate to the computer. And you know, I really think that parents who are thinking about their parenting it will invariably do the best thing for their children. For me, it doesn’t feel right, right now. But I know this will change at some stage (with balance and boundaries, as you say!).

  6. I’m with you, Sarah. We do use my laptop to quickly find images or videos of things we don’t see in everyday life or to illustrate a concept. And we do watch DVDs and some cartoons on Netflix and YouTube. But I am holding off on introducing any kind of educational games. Are there great educational games online? I’m sure there are. But I believe that pretty much everything that a 3-6 year old needs to learn can be taught without a computer. As for the toy laptops – we have 2 of those that are collecting dust and waiting to be donated. They are gifts from relatives. My son didn’t care at all for either of these toys. Instead, he found a plastic sorting box (the kind you sort beads into), asked me to glue black paper on the inside and turned that into his imaginary computer. He now plays with it all the time.

    1. I love the idea of your home made computer Yelena. I think I might have to make one for my little boy – I’m sure he’d love to sit at the kitchen table next to me, with us both on our ‘pooters’ lol.

  7. I appreciate your well written post and your feelings on the topic!

    My daughter is 4 years old, and we have an iPod touch. She does use it some. Your post makes me understand a bit more about why I have felt odd about it at times, because sometimes seeing her on it makes me feel a bit strange – like it’s not quite right for a toddler to be using an electronic device.

    That being said, she has learned some things through educational games on the iPod touch and because it’s a touch-based device, it adds for a bit more interaction.

    I think it really depends on the child and what the parent feels is best.

    I think that balance is most definitely key, if you choose to allow your child to use a computer.

    We do a ton of arts, crafts, nature play, etc so I feel comfortable with my daughter using the iPod touch here and there. Especially since she can only access the educational games that we have on there, making it a controlled environment.

    1. Thanks Heather. I actually found it a tricky post to write, partly because this is such a gut-feeling thing for me and it was quite a process to tease out exactly why I was uncomfortable with my little ones playing on the computer.

      I agree with you when you say that ‘it depends on the child and what the parent feels is best’. Absolutely. And I think that any parent who is reading a parenting blog such as Childhood 101 is all about making informed decisions for their children. And yes, balance is really the key!

  8. I am so with you on this one, it makes me sick to my stomach seeing kids watch t.v in their cards, or playing games on their little iphone things at restaurants…like they dont know how to make conversation with their own family anymore. We had cable and actually just cancelled it because I am so sick of paying this monthly bill thats just a waste of time. Thank you for being so inspiring and sharing all your wonderful ideas with us. I am a homeschool mom to my daughter who is 4 in april and my son who will be 2 in sept.

    1. Hi Melissa, thanks so much for your comment πŸ™‚

  9. This one rings a bell with me too. We had a no-screens policy until our little guy was two (one time in restaurant a sports channel was on — he checked out. Scary). He still has no access to our TV. Now, though, we have a iPod touch for him and, alas, when he was sick one time his daddy resorted to showing him my laptop. Yep, that snowballed.

    But — strict parental control!!! The iPod is not connected to the internet. There are lots of commercial-free videos, music, colouring, and, best of all, books, on Youtube and iTunes, many for free. Sure, turning the pages is electronic and not physical, but hey. It’s a lot lighter to carry around than a pile of books when we’re out and in boring situations (waiting rooms, long adult conversations…not the car), though we also have a large repertoire of imaginative games we try to exhaust first. And the days of tackling him for diaper changes are over, hallelujah!

    He doesn’t get to touch the keys on my laptop, ever. We look at videos (any and all trains), family photos, and because I’m an artist, pictures of paintings. He’s particularly fond of still life. I’ve been able to expose him to more art this way than I ever could have in real life.

    I can’t feel too guilty about this. If it replaced “real” play, that would be definitely be bad. But with us in control, I actually think it’s better than TV. I like that the iPod is interactive. Mostly he finds music, puts it down and dances. Too cute.

    1. Hi Frances,
      I loved this comment, especially the idea of looking at paintings on the computer. I would love to share more paintings with my children as the opportunities are limited where I live, and I have fantastic memories of trips to the National Gallery of Victoria with my artist grandmother when I was little.
      And I can imagine watching trains would be a big hit with someone in this household (and once again, no trains where we live!).

  10. Such a great post. I’ve been trying to grapple with this topic myself, and like you have felt that it just didn’t feel right, though I haven’t been able to give voice to the why, so I love that you have this list. I really agree with you.
    My oldest has been introduced to starfall.com through his preschool, and my husband and I went back and forth on if we were okay with him using this tool at home. I ultimately decided no– I would much rather have him learning to read in a more natural way– sitting on my lap, exploring stories together (not that you can’t do both). My husband also agreed with no. He said “they have their whole life ahead of them to be on a computer. They need to just play.”
    So we, like you, are trying to delay computer time until they are older.
    Thanks for your thoughts– I always love reading your blog, and posts!

    1. Thanks Jane, sounds as though we’re on the same wavelength! I love your blog too πŸ™‚

  11. While all your kids are younger it is not so difficult to limit/avoid the traps of the modern world. We are a family with a fifteen year old boy, an eight year old girl and five year old boy… when the oldest was the only one and young we didnt do tv at all (he was at a waldorf school) and he didnt own gameboys, nintendo or the like. It became more difficult as he grew older. For a start we moved to the country for the lifestyle but it did mean change of school to mainstream and that bought inevitable changes to values and attitudes around him … He was introduced to these things at other people’s houses and the nag fest began. Eventually a playstation did come along, then a hand held one… now he has his own computer (and his own facebook account at 14)… It got to the point I was more concerned with creating resentment/isolation/rebellion that I was about pitfalls to technology. Along the way we have set guidelines around the length of time spent on any console, online – what and where he can browse, information he is and isnt allowed to share (and we have the passwords to all accounts and check up frequently). The younger children have started earlier – they knew about it all so much earlier and I felt once the genie was out of the bottle it was better to work with it. They arent allowed facebook until 14- but with parental supervision can spend time on the internet (with a time and site limit). My eight year old daughter’s teacher this year sets homework on eduational websites for her to complete- her younger brother wants to mimic her so we use a couple of computer games (that way I can limit the exposure to ads) They do play on the playstation and watch tv – I prefer dvd’s as it eliminates advertising. The oldest has an ipod and my daughter is about to get one for her ninth birthday. But we balance that out with outdoor and family time. We eat as a family and talk each evening. We live on a property and have horses, chooks, pet goat, dogs, cats, budgies, rabbits and a veggie patch – the kids all have chores. We have the neighbours kids over to play. We collect tadpoles from the drainage ditches down the road. My youngest visits the ‘three horns’ at the end of our road with titbits (they are in fact long horned cattle he is convinced are prehistoric beings- most cattle around here are dehorned and far smaller varietys) We all play sport – and volunteer time with the clubs to coach and help out( horse-riding, basketball, rugby, cricket, ponyclub- depending on person and preference). My teenager is a cadet and is being encouraged to volunteer community time. We all have ‘reading time’ before bed. I model alot of the behaviour I would like to see, talk about what I do on the computer and how I use the internet. We educate them (even the youngest) on bullying behaviour (both online and off) and will use the computer to do that at sites like curethebullies.com.au!! I drive the teenager mad with my supervision and time restrictions. At the moment I am the meanest, oldest fuddy duddy in the world because his mobile has to be out in the kitchen at 8.30pm and offline (alot of his friends sit on facebook until midnight!). And I try to stay flexible.. some or all of it may change.. tomorrow or in a year…

    1. Hi again Sarah,
      Just wanted to add that my husband just read your comment, and he was impressed with how flexible your approach is – responding to the different challenges as they arise, open to negotiating the boundaries, but being super vigilant about those boundaries at the same time. πŸ™‚

      1. Thank you!! We try…..all three kids are unique beings that grow, develop and change and I find the best approach is to grow, develop and change right alongside them. : ) Their dad is a police officer and the lessons taken from work are applied at home… I think you cant go wrong if you really listen and respect your kids!

  12. Hey Sarah,
    I’m very aware that I’m on borrowed time here lol. I know that in years to come I’m going to have to deal with the reality of my kids living and learning in the age of technology. Sounds as though you are doing a fantastic job of keeping it all in balance with your children. I am getting a little taste of how difficult it can be to compete against the peer group too. My daughter, who is in kindergarten, is starting to say things that are just not her, and certainly have not come from home. Including pointing her finger and saying “kill kill” to her little brother as a way of asking him to leave her alone. And she’s going to a lovely independent school which has a strong emphasis on compassion and peace!
    Ahh, the challenges!

  13. An interesting and well-written post Sarah, and thought-provoking!

    In my experience (my kids are 7.5, almost 6 and 2), I agree with Francesca above when she points out that both the pitfalls and potential benefits of computers are quite different to those of TV – more different than I would have expected before having my children, to be completely honest. TV has always been a low priority in our household, for adults as well as children; none of my three watched any at all before about 18 months of age, and barring periods of illness or holidays, they now watch maybe 3 hours apiece a week in total, sometimes less. The two school-aged children usually don’t watch any TV on school days, we just find there is other stuff to do that’s more interesting and important. (Toddler is very deeply in love with her Playschool, however, so the three mornings a week we’re home, that gets a guernsey πŸ˜‰

    Our experience with computers has been a bit different. Like Sarah, we use it readily (and have done for ages) to Google answers to questions, facts, information, and YouTube videos of songs.

    However, my elder two now also are allowed computer time three times a week to work on their own projects. The eldest is writing a series of non-fiction books, using Word, Photoshop, Google, Wikipedia, various science and technology websites, and so forth to do her research and design. She and the almost 6 year old also both love Reading Eggs and they do play games occasionally on a game website called Moshi Monsters that the eldest was introduced to by school friends. The younger one loves to doctor photos and play with programs like Paint and Illustrator. (Her results can be pretty artistic too!)

    I find that their use of the computer is much more active / interactive than their tv viewing. When they are watching TV, they tend to switch off & zone out, becoming unresponsive, irritated by conversation. On the computer they welcome conversation, often work co-operatively, and like to create / make things.

    Just my 2 cents worth!

    1. Thanks for the great comment Kathy, it’s interesting to see how your differently aged kids are using the computer in different ways. I think if I had older kids who were using the computer for school work it would be impossible to stop my 2 year old! My ‘rules’ would need to change pretty quickly!

  14. Thank you for this post Sarah, and it’s nice to know we share very similar views about computer exposure. Though I am so ignorant I didn’t even know there were all these kids websites out there, and have never even *thought* to look for something online for my kids to ‘play’ with! My Miss 3 uses my laptop to look at family photos, or sometimes facebook photos of our friends from Australia. And I use it for ABC Playground kids radio.
    We probably watch a bit too much tv here, but as we come in to summer, I am really hoping to change that and spend more time outside. I do let the kids watch English/Aussie tv, mostly PlaySchool type things, so they hear more spoken English than just me, since we are living in Belgium now.
    As a kid I didn’t have a tv, (or a computer!) and I turned out OK πŸ˜‰
    I’m going to try to find out how the computer thing works with primary schools here now, I’m interested. Thank you!

    1. Hey Rhi! I am going to have to check out ABC Playground kids radio. I’ve never heard of it, but I LOVE the idea of a kids radio station. How fantastic for your girl to be growing up bilingual – I bet Playschool is a fantastic resource for you on that front. Someone once told me that apparently you can watch Playschool with the sound off and lipread most of the words because their style of speaking is SO clear and delivered directly to the camera/audience.

  15. Oh this is definitely a topic that resonates with me. My 2 1/2 year old son isn’t encouraged to use our computer (he does however like dancing and singing in front of the web cam though, ha ha) and he watches limited ABC TV. Like most mum’s I much prefer he plays, explores and learns from the rich world we live in on our farm. But in saying that, he does use my iPhone to play educational applications. In the short few months he started playing his ‘games’ he developed an incredibly rapid understanding of colours, shapes, letters and numbers. Yes, I do sit down with him and help him learn the old fashioned way with flash cards, books and puzzles quite regularly, but I also feel there is a place for electronic educational learning tools. We sit and play the different apps together, and we talk about what he is learning. I’ll admit there are times I feel ‘funny’ about my son using my iPhone, as though I’m taking the easy way out with his learning and education. But I think that feeling is primarily driven by society’s attitude towards children using electronic appliances, rather than my own doubts of what he is learning.

    Children should always be encouraged to play, learn and explore through multi sensory activities, but lets not discount the benefit that can be gained via supervised use of electronic learning devices.

    xx

    1. Hey Chrissie, your description of the way you use your iphone with your son sounds like what I am noticing as the norm (in my circle anyway). As I mentioned in the post, I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority on this one!

      My children are also learning quickly and constantly, and learning happens just as we go about our day, talking about everything we see and whatever it is we’re doing, playing together, reading (but I’ve never used flashcards lol!).

      I bet your boy is learning SO much on the farm!

  16. I agree with you…we don’t watch much television and use the computer primarily for photos and videos. We are a music listening, book reading, game playing type of family. However, my seven year old opened the laptop the other day and wrote a story in Pages. She used different size and colours of fonts to emphasize different words! I couldn’t believe what she had done! When I asked how she did it, she said she had seen me do it and followed what the computer said. I realized then that we could use the computer as a tool for writing and creating. My daughter is a writer…usually of hand written and hand drawn books…so the computer scares me. I don’t want to lose the handwritten component. We are working on ways to combine technology with the handmade. A challenge I am looking forward to. As for my 5 year old…she isn’t interested in the computer one bit! All in good time.

    1. Oooh, I love the idea of combining technology with the handmade. So many creative opportunities there. My favourite way of producing graphic work in my old job (pre kids) were those which combined hand drawn graphics within a computerised format.

  17. All I can say is you’ve got good instincts, Sarah! And yea for you for listening to them, even though others may be doing things differently. I appreciate your thoughtful post, and the ensuing discussion.

    I’m an early childhood educator working with young children and their parents, and like you, I often feel in the minority, as I advocate a very slow, cautious approach when it comes to toddlers, preschoolers, and computers.

    Of course, marketers market aggressively, and even among my colleagues there is quite a bit of discussion and disagreement as to when, and how to introduce computers and apps, and what the benefits and drawbacks might be.

    The truth is, the jury is still out, and you’ve made a very good case for why it might be a good idea to wait. I’m so happy to read that there are some who agree with you, and I appreciate reading about the experiences of Moms who have older children, or multiple children, and how they are managing the use of computers with their children.

    I shared your post on my facebook page, and will share in my parenting workshops as well. By the way, I work as a nanny for a family with two children, ages five and two, and they use the computer with their children in a similar way to the one you described; to look up information, and to look at family pictures or videos. The five year old will very occasionally be allowed to play a game- usually on a long plane trip back east to see relatives. If you ask the five year old, she will tell you a computer is a machine that Mommy and Daddy use to look up answers to questions, to pay bills, to shop, to do their work, and “sometimes we get to look at pictures too.” She knows about many of the wonderful things computers can do, but she sees them primarily as tools for grown ups, and I think that is just perfect.

    1. Hi Lisa, thanks so much for the comment. It’s interesting to hear the perspective of someone who is a professional. As a mum, I’m really only voicing a very personal opinion, and obviously not one that’s based on training or research. I can imagine that technology use would be an ongoing conversation within your industry. I’m flattered that you’ve shared the post – thank you πŸ™‚

  18. My little one (almost 3) isn’t very interested in the computer, although she is starting to be interested now she has the co-ordination to use the mouse. It’s a very occasional activity though. The big one (5 1/2) started using it very early sitting on my lap. She goes through cycles of wanting to play a lot and then ignoring it for weeks. There are strict limits because she gets ratty if she’s on it too much and a small list of ‘approved sites’ in her favourites bar.

    I do want to throw in another point of view. This is the digital and information age, and that has enormous traps. I don’t just mean safety wise, I mean that critical literacy is vital because there are no longer any checks on the quality of information. The same goes for social interaction – there used to be limits on what could be shared and when, now it is constant. This is something children need to learn to deal with because otherwise it is dangerous – people are making decisions on their governments, their lives and their health based on information off the internet.

    I’ve seen it argued that they’ll learn naturally because it’s all around them, but to me that’s a very poor argument. People don’t learn to read naturally because it is all around them. And I don’t just mean people who are functionally illiterate, I am continually shocked by the misunderstandings and different interpretations of written communication. If this generation does a poor job of comprehension, how are our children supposed to develop the even harder skills of critical literacy unless we put thought into how we are going to help them?

    To me, a small part of that has to be learning about computers early. I don’t mean plonking them down to play games, that’s the equivalent of giving a baby a board book to chew on. But learning to use computers, learning their own limits in using one, how it makes them feel and when to take a break, evaluating games to see what makes them fun to play, they are all skills that will help them later evaluate information to see if it is trustworthy and what it really means.

  19. Hi Deb,
    Thanks for your comment – lots of points that I’ll be thinking about long after this particular discussion is over. My post was really about the reasons why my kids don’t play computer games and use tech gadgets. They are only 2 and 4 and although I am not a teacher, I just don’t think that being computer savvy is a priority at the moment. I feel better about them being here, in the real world with real people and real experiences for now. But i know the time will come when I will need to address it.

  20. I liked your post and I think every mom has any “excuse” to expose or shield their children from whatever they deem fitting. I also believe that every child is different and their own individual. I have a five year old daughter who is SO energetic and has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. I allow Estella to use my iPad as a treat for good behavior (mostly in long car rides) but she plays educational games on it. She reads at a level beyond that of any of her kindergarten classmates, and is also at a second grade math level. Our family is a very “plugged-in” family and we have a computer in every room and games and t.v.’s and a dvd player in the car and all of that, but we also read to our daughter every night and take nature walks and shut off everything every night for family dinner at the table together. So I guess I am saying I see no fault in one way or another as long as you manage to raise your kids and not just plug them in and forget them.
    I enjoy your posts immensely. Thank you!

  21. Well said! I agree in so many ways. There’s no rush. I say let them enjoy computer free time while they can, cause I imagine by the time they get to late primary school they’ll sadly be using them for hours each day.

    1. As Tricia says, a lot of primary schools, especially ‘private’ ones have a laptop on the list from Grade 1. But it is not just young children, I am amazed at the number of primary school and lower high school aged children that have their own mobile phones. With cyberbullying becoming such a trend I am so thankful that my kids never had these options (given they are all grown now). My daughter is getting pressure from her high school to give my 14 year old grand-daughter a mobile phone – insane is my reply to that, when she has already been bullied via her normal home phone.

  22. Ah, Sarah, post of the week! Such a refreshing and well thought out take on this vital topic. I think you know how similar my views are. J x

  23. Sarah –

    What I like the most about your post is your open mindedness. Now – full disclosure – I’ve been “playing” with computers since I was 6 and it completely shaped my life. Bachelors of Science in Computer Science and Cognitive Science, followed up with a pair of PhDs in the same disciplines. So obviously, I think that computers at a young age are a great thing.

    Though I acknowledge that many others have had social skills hampered by their computer time, or their physical shape also negatively effected by the love for screen time. Sometimes it’s the computer’s fault, sometimes it’s not, but either way, there are a lot of lifestyles out there where I’m thinking, I don’t want my kid like that.

    Of course, it all comes down to balance.

    We bought our son a OLPC early on, and though it was a good charity, it was a poor laptop. Then we used an old windows laptop for a while, but that was too temperamental to his random clicks. The iPad (and to a lesser extent, his mom’s iPhone) has turned out to be a great blend of technology and accessibility.

    He loves to draw on it. He practices his writing (and typing). He reads books on it. But I think the main thing we’ve stressed as parents is to not use it as a “babysitter”. He’s rarely on it unaccompanied. Just like a book to read together at night, we use the iPad together. We talk about the stories behind is drawings. We sound words out together. We discuss ways to solve some of the puzzles in the games – there’s a lot of open ended creativity available within some of these applications. We also discuss the details in the drawings of books he’s reading – which can be interactive (to varying levels of success). And now, he’s even into critiquing the quality of the applications themselves!

    We have movies on the iPad for him, but he’s quickly bored by their lack of interaction. Why watch a movie, when he can be creating his own puppet show?

    So, I see the iPad as a great tool to help exercise his imagination and also realize the utility of technology in our lives. It isn’t a replacement for pen and paper, or being on the soccer team, or taking swim class. It’s just another activity that we’re using to enrich his environment.

    And I love being at work and get a Facetime call from a 5 year old asking when I’m going to be home for dinner…

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