Dear Fellow NY Kids Club and NY Preschool parents, I’m going to admit it:
I have a complicated relationship with technology. And I’m guessing that you do, too. Our family recently moved to NYC from Silicon Valley, where my husband and I worked in the tech startup scene for more than a decade. Silicon Valley is an incredible place – anything seems possible, people trying to solve the world’s biggest problems, and everyone has their own startup – you can’t even go to the dentist without getting pitched a mobile app idea! And yet…even sitting in the middle of all this promise, I couldn’t help but think that every new invention brings both incredible opportunity and a slew of new challenges.
It wasn’t until I had children of my own, though, (Asher, 6, and Simi, 2, both regular fixtures at NY Kids Club!) that it got REALLY complicated. I had to start making difficult decisions about what kinds of technology I wanted to expose my children to, and for how long. I had to start thinking about creating rules around technology that doesn’t even exist yet! I had to face the fact that no matter how much of a tech “expert” I may be, I am bound to get lapped by my children. And most difficult of all, I had to shine a mirror on my own relationship with technology to make sure I was setting a good example. Yikes.
I work in children’s entertainment, and a lot of my work centers around creating shows, books, experiences that introduce children and families to tech in a fun, exciting way. At the same time, it also makes it complicated at home. It becomes difficult to make rules around your children consuming television…when you create children’s TV shows yourself! (Although I did possibly peak as a parent recently when I came home and my sons were snuggling together on the sofa, watching my show DOT, about a super tech-savvy girl and her group of friends, on Sprout and Hulu.) It gets hard to tell your family to put away their tech at the dinner table when you have just launched a restaurant that specifically encourages families to engage with technology while they eat! (My techie, family-friendly dining experience, Sue’s Tech Kitchen just opened in Chattanooga, TN)
All my research and work in this space keep leading me back to the same five things to consider as you’re thinking about the right mix of tech in your household:
1.) Time for some self-reflection. People are always asking me, “Randi, what are your rules for your children with technology?” But funny enough, nobody ever asks me “Randi, what are your rules for yourself?” And where do they think my children are learning about having a relationship with technology from? You can have rules all day long, but if you’re not modeling good behavior with technology, or if you constantly have the phone out, it becomes very difficult to set boundaries for others that they will actually adhere to.
2.) Tech-Time and Screen-Time are two different things. I know, I know, when you think about “kids and technology” you immediately conjure up an image of a kid sitting on a sofa, glued to an iPad. I get it. I’d like to challenge that opinion though, because there are so many ways to get children excited about technology that never even involve taking out a screen. From playing with age-appropriate robots, to building Legos, to engaging with toys that teach basic concepts of engineering, building, and coding – it is absolutely possible to get your children incredibly excited about technology, without ever including a screen in the mix.
3.) That being said, screens are important too. The prediction is that there will be over a million open computing jobs in this country by the year 2020. Think about what that means by the time our children graduate from college, and you’ll realize that it is incredibly important to teach children tech literacy from an early age. These are the tools that our kids will need for virtually any career in the future, so you want to make sure (especially if you have a daughter!) that your kids are at least on par with their peers in terms of tech and device know-how. I once barged in on a conversation between two moms on the 1-train, commiserating about how they wanted their daughters to take piano lessons, but all the girls wanted to do was play Minecraft. I couldn’t help myself from chiming in, “the piano is fantastic, but it’s also FANTASTIC for girls to be playing Minecraft! It’s a gateway to coding! Let them do both!”
4.) Try to create a weekly family ritual around unplugging. Maybe it’s for 30 minutes during dinner. Maybe it’s an entire weekend day. Maybe it’s a “no phones in the bedroom” rule. Whatever it is, I assure you that it’s a wonderful thing to take time to put the gadgets away, unplug from all the craziness of the world, and give your loved ones your undivided attention. In this world of constant digital distraction, your full attention is the most precious gift you can give to your family, and even a small amount goes a long way. If you’re as addicted to your devices as I am, you won’t be able to jump cold turkey into an entire day of unplugging, but start small and build from there. I think you’ll be really pleasantly surprised by how much everyone in the family will start to look forward to a regular ritual of unplugging.
5.) There’s no “one size fits all” model for families and technology. All families are different, and when it comes to tech and your family, the first rule is that there are no hard and fast rules. Different families have different needs, different comfort levels with tech, different budgets, you name it. You have to do what feels right for you. For example, some people prefer to minimize their children’s exposure to screens as much as possible. While parents with autistic children might find that technology and communicating through screens levels the playing field for their children and allows them to communicate comfortably with peers. Some families might get all the newest and latest gadgets. Other families might be on a tighter budget. Sometimes, I even contradict my own rules on the very same day! And guess what? It all works!
The one thing that is consistent is that one day, our kids will laugh at us over all this tech that we thought was so cool and so innovative now. “Mom, you used to have to DRIVE a car?! Wow, you’re soooo old!”
So the next time you come to watch your kid do gymnastics at NY Kids Club or pick them up from a birthday party…take those photos and videos (you know you want to!) but then make sure you put those phones away and engage the old-fashioned way.