What Role Does Technology Have In Our Children's Lives?

I'm writing this during an INSET where the speaker has introduced her session on challenging More Able and Talented children by showing a photograph of four nursery age children who were playing on iPods and not communicating, thus illustrating her concerns about the use of technology by children. This angered me slightly; it was shown out of context with little information about the children's task, what they were doing immediately before or after.

It's started me thinking about the technology that The Boy uses, and why.

On a daily basis, The Boy can help unload the dishwasher, turn on the television, select channel 614, play puzzles on the iPad, take photos on his camera, turn on the washing machine and play on one of his preschool games on the laptop. Don't get me wrong here, we also do art and craft, jigsaws, book reading and general playing. However my point is, that The Boy uses a lot of technology, and with a father who's a software developer and a mother who's an ICT coordinator then it's difficult for him to avoid it.

It started when he was 20 months old and I would give him a bubble-popping app on the iPod; not for a distraction but to help him develop his hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. I would load the app for him and he'd play for just a few minutes, it was amazing to see the tracking in his vision. One day I nipped out to the kitchen to get a drink and came back in to discover him switching between the apps and playing a matching pairs game. I'd never shown him that, he'd worked it out for himself.

Children are innately curious, technology is an amazing tool for encouraging this.

We have made a conscious decision to provide The Boy with a range of technology so that we ignite within him the curiosity needed to investigate further technological innovations…

"The advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don't really even notice it, so it's part of everyday life." – Bill Gates

This is true. The technology that our children will use in the future is inconceivable: who would have thought five years ago that I'd be carrying a high powered computer around in my handbag with tens of books on it, access to the Internet, a camera, 'board' games and films on it, let alone that I'd be able to access all of that within seconds of reaching for it.

Technology has its place and is a valuable tool as a platform for learning; it is not a demon to be criticised at teacher training days, and children using it is not something that should be frowned upon. Of course there are going to be those parents who use it as a babysitter or pacifier (and in some situations it's needed), but it's also an amazing and innovative device for developing so many skills.

So here's my question to you: what is your stance on technology in your children's lives?

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  1. says

    For us we see technology as very important and the girls have always been allowed to use the iPad or mobigo from a young age. Mia has been able to unlock the iPad and select her apps from a young age and they both have their own folders.

    The pre-school has allowed them use of the laptop from the age of 2 and now Aly's at school they allow computer time during the day.

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      It's amazing how they seem to be able to just work out how to use it, isn't it? I can't imagine what they'll be doing in ten years time.

  2. says

    In my opinion technology is an essential part of life in the 21st century, to deny our children it is denying something that is ubiquitous and seems wrong to me. I think that it is important that parents monitor the use of technology and support their children in learning in this way but, for us, it is a valuable learning tool. At 2.5 Bud can play matching pairs and counting games on our phones. In fact the counting game has taught him that there is a number between three and five!

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      I completely agree about the monitoring; before we even had The Boy we said that we'd only ever have a family computer downstairs where access would be monitored for e-safety. Like you I think parents should support their children, and actually play the games with them. The Boy has learnt about numbers through the iPad apps too and one day surprised me by knowing what a hexagon was!

  3. says

    I'm not with you on this I'm afraid. My kids are nearly 9, 6 and nearly 4 and whilst we have ipads and laptops, they are not allowed to play on them daily. I think that ICT at school is more than enough, the other day 9 year old wrote a presentation for his school council with NO help – I was sooooo impressed.

    I personally think that children should be kept away from a digital world for as long as possible and my reasons for this are:

    1) Children come to play and all they want to do is sit on a computer
    2) Behaviour changes with computer games – even on things like lego wii I see a marked change in the kids behaviour – aggressive and "lost" i a virtual world
    3) The children who are "plugged in" have very poor social skills. FACT.

    Now a lot of what your boy can do are what I would say are life skills, loading dishwasher, using camera, turning on TV etc but I do think that screen time should be controlled and limited.

    I have no objection to educational apps but to sit and mindlessly play computer games – not going to happen in my house I'm afraid!!!!

    S.A.M xxx

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      I actually completely agree with points 2 and 3 (like you said on FB, yours are older than The Boy so I haven't experienced 1 yet).

      I personally think it's unacceptable that there are so many aggressive computer games out there that are all about beating characters up. I think it contributes to the perception that violence is acceptable, mindless aggression and thuggery seems to be encouraged in these games? We've found in school that there is a massive problem with parents not realising that certificates on computer games have the same weight as with a film; it is shocking the amount of 7-11 year old boys who are playing Grand Theft Auto or Space Zombie Killing Machine (or whatever the latest shoot'em-up is called). We've had to have the community police officer in to talk to the parents!

      With regards to the third point, I agree. I think the console where children can 'chat' with their friends while playing a game remotely is terrible! I was talking to an ex-pupil's mum and she said that she couldn't get her 14 year old to go out and play with his friends in the Summer because he was playing them online. Such a shame.

      Finally, I agree about screen time (either television or whatever form of computer) too. The Boy watches a few programmes in the morning, and plays on the iPad for a few blocks of ten minutes during the day, but *with* me and we play together.

      Not so conflicting opinions in the end 🙂

  4. says

    Whilst we have all the gadgets at home iPad, iPhones etc that he plays on part of me was taken aback when I saw the children at preschool playing on one. Ridiculous because why should it be any different between home and school. Not every child is lucky enough to have these kinds of tech at home. We have very traditional toys at home for our boys, a dolls house, kitchen, basic wooden garage etc which balances out the time he spends do the writing app or laughing at the stupid talking tom iPhone app.
    Saying that he is only 3 and I will resist buying any sort of personal computer game thing for him until peer pressure really kicks in. I couldn't believe the number of his friends that all have nintendo ds' at 3!!!!!

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Most of our toys are traditional, I don't like battery-operated toys by and large. I actually deleted all the Talking Tom-style apps because they were annoying me with their silly sound effects. The apps which we've got on the iPad or the Kurio all have educational benefits, although it might not be obvious at first.

      I actually think that in an educational setting, iPads are more beneficial for younger children than older; I actually had a 'heated debate' in the staffroom the other day reasoning why nursery should have available iPads before year six. The Boy has learnt so much from the apps: hexagon, pentagon, octagon, counting to 30+, letter recognition, matching games, etc.

      However I'm completely with you about the Nintendo DS; I hate them with a passion and it will be a long time before The Boy has his own personal tablet. What we have are family technological devices: our iPad, our Kurio, and we have one 26 inch television in the house which is the way it will stay. Thanks for commenting.

  5. susanne@babyhuddle says

    I think I sit somewhere near you but with a few toes dipped in s.a.m's pool! Our kids r so lucky to have the technology they have and it is going to be essential that they know how to use it if they want decent jobs later in life. But I will always prefer that they play with a cardboard box or run outside over a computer game. Eva has just turned 8 and has got her first computer (small tablet) but there is no way she will be on it all the time. We don't have the tv on during the day and I do think technology needs to be monitored. But not restricted. Great post!

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      I actually agree with two out of the three points S.A.M made but they weren't what was in my head when I was writing the post. I much more prefer The Boy playing with traditional toys, aside from technology he has the minimal amount of battery operated toys: his favourites are his wooden train track, anything by Orchard Toys, giant kerplunk and his playmobile house.

      I also agree technology needs to be monitored to ensure our children are kept safe in today's Internet, but like you I don't agree on restricting it (for the reasons Geekmummy has mentioned in her comment).

      Thanks for your comment, amazing what you can write when you're bored in INSET!

      • Susanne@babyhuddle says

        Yes, I know that you are a fan of traditional toys and activities too. And I am in awe that you managed to blog during a meeting!!


        • TheBoyAndMe says

          140 people there! It was a conference for the cluster. I hid in the back row and was switching between my notes from the training session and the notes for the blog posts.

  6. says

    It's probably not surprising to hear that I am very much in favour of kids coming into contact with technology. I see a big difference between what I call "passive screen time" (I.e. watching television) and "active screen time" (I.e. solving puzzles on the iPad). In our house we keep an eye on how much time our kids spend using the iPad, but we don't restrict it at all, and what we've found is that the kids treat them as just another toy. They pick them up and put them down as they do other toys. They are just a part of life. They don't spend a disproportionate time playing on them, and they are part of day to day life.

    I have found that kids who have their computer time tightly controlled are far more likely to just sit and play on them obsessively when they do get the chance, whereas our kids happily put them down and do other stuff.

    Kids are growing up in the digital world. One of the skills I want to teach our kids is how to live and interact with technology in a proportionate manner.

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      I was hoping you'd comment, thank you.

      I agree with you about the passive and active screen time. Earlier The Boy had been watching five minutes of television and shouted out, "I don't want to watch anymore television, I'm turning it off!" which was fine by me! I limit the television time to a few programmes in the morning while we're getting ready for work or having our breakfast. Like you I find that The Boy picks up the iPad or Kurio to play with like any other toy, and puts it down when he wants to play with something else. Every app we have on there has been carefully thought out, normally from one of your reviews! I downloaded the Talking Tom-style apps and deleted them two days later because they were pointless.

      You make a really interesting point about restricting children's time; it's akin to restriction of certain foods isn't it? If you aren't allowed something you want it even more and gorge on it.

      Like I say, the technology of the future is currently inconceivable; they need to know how to evolve with technology to keep up to date (in my opinion).

  7. says

    I'll we've never set limits in how much time the girls use the iPad and they've always had access to the computer and always will. The girls are very good and when they have finished with it they'll put it down and play with various other toys.

    Technology is such a big part of life these days and its only going to increase. I wouldn't allow them to play a violent game but they'll always see worse on the news and I don't want them to naive.

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      You're right about how we filter graphic information to them when it's ready. I'm a little too fluffy and don't have any non-child programmes on during his waking hours because I don't want to acknowledge the world's atrocities.

      I agree, technology is only going to increase and people use it all the time without realising. I think to not provide our children with access to it is going to inhibit their development. Bold statement, I know.

  8. says

    Personally I am apprehensive to introduce it as I worry that Dylan will become one of those children who sits inside all day playing computer games and forgetting what fresh air is. I know this is extreme but he is still only 14 months and has no grasp of it yet. Realistically I think it can be a great learning tool and as you say, used for the right motives can be great. I want to bring him up in a balanced way with plenty of interaction, outdoor play and crafts and maybe I need to embrace it a little more as it is after all the future.

    Hope that made sense, I guess my main point is that we haven't introduced anything yet and will probably do so slowly and see how it goes but not for a few more months.

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      I understand your concerns about it, I think they're well founded. It will be a long time (if ever) before I allow The Boy to play those types of computer games. The games The Boy plays on are CBeebies apps, or matching games, counting, drawing, snap, etc. Educational.

      I think you've got plenty of time before you need to worry about introducing it, for us it just happened 'accidentally' but I don't regret it. I think the use of the technology (as a tool not a rule) is going to be increased and they need to have the comprehension of how to find out how to use it. Did that make sense?

  9. says

    superamazingmummy's point 2 is a good one. I remember my son playing a fighting game on the SNES ( years ago) and his friend beat him, he was not usually a sore loser or a fighter for that matter, but he got hold of his wee pal and had him against the wall by the throat. The game belonged to his pal ad he was told never to bring it back.
    The grandkids will ask me can they have the tv in, if I was to say yes you can have an hr, Fifi would make sure she watched for the hr…whereas if I just say yes then she will usually watch it for less time as she will come nad play games with Bob and I.
    They are the future and they will changed beyond what we can conceive and I doubt my generation will keep up with all the changes. I have no interest in a phone with internet, e-mail, FB etc etc on so I will just get left behind.

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      I absolutely agree with S.A.M's point about violent games and they will not be coming into this house. The stereotypical image of a boy playing a shooty-shooty bang-bang game is not what I mean; The Boy plays educational games. I don't allow shooty-shooty bang-bang games in free time on the school computers, I'm not allowing them at home.

      I agree that children don't necessarily want to use technology all the time, it links to Ruth's comment above that if you restrict then they gorge but if you allow free access then they restrict themselves. It's a little like chocolate!

      And you won't get left behind at all, you'll be the one enjoying the sunsets while everyone else is looking at pictures of it on Instagram!

  10. says

    In two minds about this…

    If my children were younger I would be worried about their "playful" development and want to ensure that there was a tech/nature balance as I'm a big believer in children being children and being allowed to play out and get dirty etc.

    However, my children (now grown up or teen) have a healthy online life with great social skills and they have developed a fantastic online/nature balance because that is what I've encouraged from the start (when technology was much less widely available).

    Naturally, my grandchildren are coming into a totally digital world and even now, at age 3 and 2, their language is totally different. The 3 year old wants to use my tablet to draw on and the 2 year old knows how to use the Flip video camera to take photos. Their mum can't afford all the expensive gadgets though so their "natural" world is much more as it should be (apparently they have iPad's in nursery though *actual shocked face*).

    As long as kids play outside, get interaction with humans of all ages and intellegence levels, learn to use technology accordingly and appropriately then I don't envisage a problem. We need to adjust and move forward with world developments. Our grandparents used to think that television would destroy childhood – it never did, it just changed it slightly.

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Genuinely intrigued; wy has it surprised or shocked you that they have iPads in nursery? I actually think they have more of a place younger down in a school than they do further up the school. The hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skills development opportunities are immense.

      I completely agree with you about a balance, I suppose my post implied my child only plays with technology and that was inaccurate. Don't get me wrong; if I offered The Boy a craft activity, playing outside in the garden or the iPad then he would play in the garden first, craft next and then the iPad. We spend a good amount of time outside as our 'Country Kids' posts each week testify. I do agree that there definitely needs to be a balance between them.

      Essentially my post was annoyance at this influential educational expert demonising technology from one photograph taken out of context. It is such a useful tool for learning, and going to be intrinsic in future life that I think children need the investigative skills (to work out how to use technology) nurtured. I worry that she scared those 140 teachers in to not using it for the fear of the repercussions.

      Thanks for your comment, was hoping you would!

  11. says

    it is also inevitable in our house that technology would appear in our childrens lives! Burton has only ever used the iPad or iPhone for playing games, taking photos or watching films/cbeebies or reading (well listening and looking at the pages) to book apps.
    as someone else mentioned it is treated like any other toy and he will play with it for a short time and then will go off and play with his toys again. if he has ever played for too long then i will take it away from him. he has def gained skills from it like fine motor skills and used it for learning words, numbers, animals , objects etc… which arent really any different from seeing these things in a book or on an educational TV show. There is a computer at ladybirds too so he uses that sometimes – not sure what he does on it but there are two there.
    pre Burton i wouldnt have wanted him to use technology so early (e.g. 6 months for iPhone and 10 months for iPad) because i wanted my children to remain children and play with childrens things for as long as possible. But his Daddy thought otherwise and showed him these gadgets at such a young age, and he thinks he has as much right as we do to use them (monkey!). Jenson has been shown but has no interest in playing on the iPad at all.
    At the end of the day, I think its all about balance isnt it? making sure they have a good mix of activities, fresh air etc…
    i expect my grandchildren will be learning such things from from inside the womb at the rate technology is going lol

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Grandchildren! OMG, one day we're going to be grandparents!

      Burton is like The Boy in his technical capabilities, both like using it, are very competent at it and use them well. However, they both seem to use it like they would any other toy, as you've said. I don't think either of our boys need fear from not having a good balance of 'cross-curricular' activities to expand them.

      Thanks for commenting.

  12. says

    We've only just got a tablet, so Bunny doesn't use it. She does play angry birds or fart fish occasionally on daddys phone and maybe about twenty minutes on the Wii every month or so. No more than that. She has a kids educational laptop type toy for 4-6 year olds but it only does educational things like maths, English and languages. She has an unbreakable kids camera. And she is allowed one hour of tv per day… If she has behaved at school.

    We have rules in our house that she will not have a tv in her bedroom or a mobile phone until she is 14. A rule my parents had and I always respected. I refuse to buy her a ds or anything like that because her half brother never puts his down and he is over competitive, a sore loser and not good at sharing because of it. She has the most wonderful imagination and whilst technology is an important part of adult life, I don't think its necessary at her current age and I want to nurture her creativity.

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Sounds like she has a good balance to her play.

      I also had a similar rule about a tv in my room, I think I was 14 or so before I had one. I may have had one at 12 or 13 but it was black and white and this was in the days of four channels (I am only 35, don't worry!). My first mobile phone happened when I was 18 and could pay for it myself.

      I don't like DSs and the like, they are too small and intrapersonal. An iPad allows for group playing, which I like. It's also big enough that I can see what's going on/

      Genuinely interested: do you not think it's possible to have a technical ability and interest, and to be creative and imaginative as well? I only ask because The Boy drives me to distraction asking to make craft items at least three times a day, has spent all day playing with his Playmobil house and swimming pool, yet has played intermittently on the iPad too.

  13. says

    Very good post, I'm in two minds about it all. I've recently let Leo spend a lot more time on my laptop for two reasons, one for my benefit as it's been heplful whilst I've been feeding Louka, but also I realised he was getting a lot from it.

    I've not let him use my phone although a selfish reason again, I don't want him to want to use it all the time, and possibly break it -it's my toy!

    At first he used to want to play 'laptop' all the time and it was a real fight to get him off it – tears and tantrums every time, but since I've stopped restricting (within reason) his time on it I've realised he is treating it like any other toy and turning it off himself, usually not much longer after i would have told him to.

    Now we are using the Reading Eggs site rather than just the Thomas / Bob etc site I've noticed how much he is getting from it -when we read books together now he's recognising words such as 'and, the, on, off' etc and managing to spell quite a few by sounding them out – this can only be a good thing I think.

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      I completely agree with you, and what you've said echoes Jenny and Ruth's comments about restriction. If someone put a box of chocolate on the table and told me I could only have one, then I'd want five (ok, I'd want the whole box). However, if they put it there and said nothing then I'd probably take one or two and leave them. Putting restrictions on things makes people want them even more, it's human nature I suppose. Likewise for children. I've found this with the Kurio which has parental time controls: four twenty minute session a day saw The Boy wanting me to overrule the controls, taking them off has meant he's actually playing it more frequently but for less overall time during the day.

      I need to reply to the Reading Eggs woman! Thanks for the reminder.

  14. says

    Mu husband and I both have new phones (as in new for us, not latest tech). They are from the android Galaxy series and H (2.5 yrs) has unwittingly shown us a few different things. We put our mobiles into flight mode over night as we use them as alarms and H comes into our bedroom during the night/early hours and he has worked out how to turn that off to make calls (at 5.30am!).

    We know have PIN locks on them. 😉

    I have just downloaded a few apps such as numbers and letters and pairs for toddlers and he adores them. He has a Leapad and a Peppa Pig toy laptop thing but he clearly knows they aren't real… I wouldn't mind him using the laptop for educational games but he is far more heavy handed with that than the mobiles!

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      I think our children are able to develop their technological enquiry skills a lot more than we ever were because of the amount of technology surrounding them, even unintentionally. Having experienced both the InnoTab and a Kurio, I think that the pretend tablets like the VTechs and LeapFrogs aren't very realistic at all and have a really short shelf life.

  15. says

    Wow what a hornets nest you have stirred here! Some interesting comments and debates coming out though. I am all in favour of technology, after all kids have no choice but to embrace it, it will be such a part of everyday life for them. However I am also keen for it not to take over their lives. They don't all have the latest stuff as they can't afford it, they play with what we have and mostly daily, and much of the secondary school homework is computer based too. Then again I do restrict all computer / ipod / tv time to allow some outdoor time, conventional play and jobs on the farm. Like with everything, a balance is good.

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      I completely agree with you, and a balance is essential. Hopefully I show that The Boy has that, as I think some people have thought that he only plays on technological gizmos.

      Thanks for commenting.

  16. says

    I think it's important to allow children to use and understand technology as they are growing up in a world that makes advances in technology on a daily basis. I would feel like I was holding them back if I didn't let them use it. Other than a laptop and iPad, we also have gaming consoles and I think that even these can be beneficial if they are used properly. My oldest sons hand-eye coordination is excellent, though I only allow him on games for an hour on the weekends, and not at all during the week. My 5 year old's favourite app on my iPhone is one that teaches him letter formation and how to spell.

    I don't use technology as a replacement to me teaching the children. I spend time every night teaching them to read, and getting them to practice their spelling and writing. Apps and computer programmes are in addition to this.

    I see technology as an important learning process for my children, but they also go outside and ride their bikes, do jigsaws, and play snakes and ladders. It's just all about balance.

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Balance is the reoccuring theme in everyone's comments and I completely agree. I also agree with what you've said about it being used as a valuable tool in order to teach.

      Thanks for commenting

  17. says

    This is a really hard question and as the first real generation going through this, I am not sure there is a right answer. I wanted to minimise the boys exposure to screens, but MadDad wanted them to be family with them. 70% of children who leave school now will use this technology in the jobs. So for me it is all about balance.

    There is no screen time after 6pm in this house and we also do not allow wanes with any form of active violence. I want them to make informed choices, I want them to choose to go outside on a good day rather than play inside, but this is something we are working on.

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      70%? Wow! And like I say, the technology that our children will use has not been conceived of yet, so I feel they need to have the technological curiosity to progress effectively.

      We also have no screen time after 6pm, unless it's a special occasion (e.g. Olympics opening ceremony) and I can't see me going anywhere near violence in games.

      Thanks for commenting.


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