The Atlantic published the linked article below during the summer.  There are some incredible points to consider:

Have Smart Phones Destroyed a Generation?

We can all recall a time when there were no smart phones or tablets.  Some of us can even remember what it was like to not have a computer at home.  What would the world be like without answers, directions, images and friend updates at our beckoned call?  Many of us can explain what our world was like–for many, as most accounts of the past are, it was simpler.

Directions weren’t available at a touch, but we did find our way.  We had to open actual books to find answers–maybe even venture out to the public library to find those books.  Instead of having a million photos of every waking moment, we had a select few of special, treasured times.  If we wanted to find out what our family or friends were up to, we had to pick up a phone, drive to their house for a face-to-face conversation or write and mail a letter.

Now, things are obviously very different.  While there are amazing advantages and conveniences to all that technology offers to us, we have to put forth very little effort to access information and disperse information.  And, the personal, face-to-face interactions that were required in obtaining or providing this information are fading more and more every day.

As a result, generations are learning through a screen.  Babies understand how to manipulate a touch screen.  Homework assignments no longer mean bringing home a textbook, a binder with loose leaf or a pencil.  Now, with the flick and tap of a finger, assignments can be completed.  They listen to podcasts instead of a teacher and can consult online forums to get tips on an essay versus talking to a parent or peer.  Instead of memorizing ALA format, there are bibliography generators, where with a copy, paste and click, you make a beautifully laid out and correctly formatted record of sources.

Kids are socializing by texting and posting now instead of having conversations.  There is a lack of tone in these forms of communication–and maybe more importantly, a lack of empathy.  It’s difficult to understand how another feels as result of your words–something that we try and try and try every single day to teach in early childhood settings–if you can’t see the person’s expression.  When this happens enough, I believe, there is a sort of numbness that people develop to others’ feelings.  And, as a result, bullying is on the rise.

This is reality.  There is no denying it.  When a four-year-old has his or her own phone–and they are still learning which number is which–is this something that provides an advantage or a convenience?  Now, that is an extreme example, and thankfully, an anomaly.  However, it does shed some light on where things may be headed.

At our school, we do embrace technology–so I see where some of these words may be called into question.  We have a computer in each classroom.  We have a tablets in each classroom.  Our interactive white boards can do incredible things.  We can use the internet to show kids things we couldn’t otherwise.  We can become pen-pals with a class in Peru and show the kids what schools are like in Pakistan.  There are programs that allow the kids to interact with words and instantly see how vowels are used to hold consonants together in a way that paper and a pencil can’t.  Or, how all of the states fit together in our country and then show us the current weather in real time in a specific location.  Yes, these advances offer something that we didn’t have as children and provide us with insights into things we couldn’t otherwise access.

However, something very important to development–and, yes, humanity–is missing if these tools are used without face-to-face interaction.  Just as we believe worksheets lose their meaning in early childhood if an adult or young adult who can read and understand the concept and help to guide the child to grasp the concept isn’t present, these technological elements also become irrelevant without the same necessary guidance.

In our school, we use technology in a pedagogical context, as was described.  In early childhood, in order to use technology appropriately, there must be an adult present to guide and interact with the children.  These early years are the best chance that we have to develop a sense of self and a sense of others.  Empathy and kindness cannot fully be learned through a screen.

These are important things to consider when we hand a child a phone or tablet to interact with while we adults take care of our responsibilities.  Maybe, we can hark back to our own childhood when we find ourselves in these moments and think about our experience when there were no devices to instantly entertain us.  We had to seek out people, books or activities in our home, outside to occupy our minds and bodies while our parents took care of what they needed to–why is this so different now?  Perhaps because kids enjoy to instant response and gratification a screen can give them.  But what does that teach?  Because, in life–real life, instant gratification is very rare.  Gratification does–and should–take hard work and dedication.  Perseverance and diligence.  Unfortunately, screens can’t teach those character building lessons–not fully, at least.

So, the next time we want to revert to the screen, even at the crying, begging and whining request of a child when you are trying to do something you need to do, think about starting a new habit.  Think about what you did while your parents were busy.  Give your child a box with some scraps and tape instead of the iPad and see what happens.  Are they happier as a result of interacting with real materials?  Are they more satisfied with a creation that took creative thought, planning skills, fine motor and gross motor movement?  Did it take longer for your child to create with their hands than it did for you to finish what you are doing?  Maybe they approached you a few times, asking for the device.  But, that’s because it’s a crutch–they are used to it.  Try this approach again and again, and eventually, you will find your kids are asking for the box and scraps instead of the device.  And, for certain, the benefits of their hands-on experiences will filter into their cognitive, creative, physical and social-emotional development.

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