Monday, July 1, 2013

Toddlers and Technology

My school district is in the midst of a complete curriculum and philosophical overdrive in an effort to better prepare kids for their future careers but also to attract and engage every learner in the classroom.  As part of this new focus our district is slowly switching over to Apple products for both teachers and students to utilize for lesson planning, instruction, student discovery and assessment.  

But that's all pretty boring stuff so I'll get to the real reason I brought that up...

We now have two iPads in our house and when you combine that with a very curious two-year-old...there has to be some guidelines, expectations and consequences.  So this is kind of an outline that we've been implementing and using with Natalie as she gets older and more aware of the technology that is found in our everyday lives.

Let me first preface this by saying - Craig and I thought long and hard about introducing not only an iPad to Natalie, but even allowing her to watch television.  Up until her second birthday she really didn't even watch television (nor was she interested) and I was very adamant on the whole NO SCREEN TIME philosophy for her.  I wanted her to be able to play on her own without a piece of technology doing the entertaining.  So for the longest time even our cell phones were off limits (and honestly, they still are!) because I wanted her to understand the concept of waiting to be served food at a restaurant or being patient in the cart during grocery shopping.  So for Natalie to be allowed to play on the iPad is pretty hard for me because I desperately want to avoid that technozombie child.

First things first: KNOW YOUR SETTINGS

There are tons of ways to make your iPad "safe" for toddlers and big kids while they play which will make your life infinitely easier as well as give you some peace of mind.

*Disclaimer - I have ALL my apps in folders because I don't like clutter or messes, nor do I like using more than one screen.*

Go to your settings app and open it up - this is kind of like the "control panel" on a computer.

You want to click first on GENERAL then scroll down to RESTRICTIONS - this is the place where you will hold all the iPad power!

Go ahead and "Enable Restrictions" but don't forget to remember your passcode!

And on another note - all our Apple devices (iPads and phones) are LOCKED and must have a passcode entered before the device can be used.  Therefore when sneaky little hands get their paws on the isn't much fun because they can't access anything!

There's a bunch of different settings and restrictions that you can change once you're into this section but I feel the MOST important is turning OFF the "In-App Purchases" so you can avoid being like these parents whose children ran up thousands of dollars with the "in-app purchase" feature of certain apps.

For the bigger kids who might be watching videos or playing games on the iPad, you can also customize the rating of the game or movie that you don't want them watching (nothing over PG, for example).  

Just beware that when you mess with ALL the restrictions it can sometimes rearrange your apps if you have them all in folders and then you have to spend time reorganizing them and putting them back in nice and neat little folders.  Obviously, I know from experience.  


In the very beginning of our iPad adventure I sat down with Natalie and had a long discussion (as long as you can have with a wiggly two-year-old) about the iPad and the responsibility that came along with it.  

It sounds much more serious than it really was, trust me.

What I really did was show her the basic skills needed - how to open her folder, click on the app and exit out when she was done.  

But more importantly, I looked right in her eye and said very seriously "These are the only games you can play.  If you open a game that is not in this folder, you will lose iPad privileges."

And then Craig and I STUCK.  TO.  IT.

The first few times she was allowed to play on the iPad she definitely tried to open up some of my other folders and she quickly learned that Momma and Daddy were not joking around.  And quite frankly, she also realized that our apps were just not as fun as hers because grown-up apps don't have Elmo, dancing monkeys or funny monsters.  

Of course when she lost her privilege of playing games, she pouted, cried and even stomped off but Craig and I held firm.  We put the iPad out of her reach and became a broken record to her pleas of "PAD!  PAD!  PAD!"  We repeated over and over in the calmest of voices, "You didn't follow the iPad rules so the iPad goes away.  If you want to be upset about this, please go to the stairs and come back when you've calmed down."  And from here I could go off on a tangent about discipline but I'm just going to stop and say this - for the most part, I have a fairly obedient child who wants to make her parents happy by doing the right thing, so this mantra works with her for the time being.

But now that we are several months into iPad territory I am able to let her play on the iPad on the mat in the bathroom while I am taking a shower and she knows her boundaries.  She understands that she has her special folder with that crazy Elmo, that dancing monkey and those funny monsters and that the rest of the iPad is generally off-limits.  


When children are very little their life is about cause and effect.  

What will happen when I build a huge tower and then knock it down?  
How many times will Momma pick up my sippy cup after I throw it to the ground?
If I throw a huge fit in the check-out line will I get that chocolate bar?  
What will Momma do if I pop out of bed twenty times after saying "night-night?"  

Although frustrating at times, this is very normal behavior and you can't really control the fact that kids are going to test the boundaries.

Remember Jurassic Park when the highly intelligent velociraptors were testing the different areas of the electric fence to find the weak spot where they could escape?  Yeah.  Little kids are JUST like that.  They're just little baby velociraptors.

But honestly, as parents and adults we cannot control the behavior they choose to have but we CAN control how we respond which will ultimately curb their behavior in the future.  If you give into that candy bar in the check-out line because of a temper tantrum the child has now learned that throwing a fit will get him what he wants.  

So how does this fit in with technology?  We use it as a reward or a treat for following directions and being sweet and respectful, not as a distraction from negative behavior.  It might be five o'clock on a Tuesday night and maybe Natalie has had a really great day so I praise her for all the great behaviors she showed during the day and allow her a little iPad time before dinner.  But if she's been fairly rotten and asks to play a game?  Nope.  Not going to happen.  I really think the key is putting it plainly to the child in cause and effect terms.  "This was the expectation, you did this so here is the reward or consequence."  Even the littles can understand this concept and hopefully by being clear in expectations and following through with consequences or rewards, you can change their behavior for the better in the future.

Sidenote: Love and disciplinary strategies EVER.  Useful for both parents of all ages and for teachers.  It really focuses on setting expectations and then allowing the child to hold responsibility for their actions.  This mindset has made my classroom management such a breeze and I rarely ever raise my voice while teaching.  I can't say enough good things about their philosophy.

And in closing...

We don't have this technology and parenting thing completely figured out.  This is one area of raising Natalie that Craig and I feel we are totally in the dark about because it wasn't an issue our parents had to deal with when we were growing up.  I can't look back and tweak what my mother and father did with me and technology because all we had a VCR and a Nintendo.  And that was it.  (And it took a lot of convincing on my brother's part to even get those things!)  

Technology and young children is a wholly 21st century issue and I think as parents we have to be mindful of the impact technology can have on the cognitive, emotional and physical development of a child, both in positive and negative aspects.  But there are also some wonderful things that we can use technology for in this day and age - being able to keep in contact with distant friends and relatives, exploring the world outside our tiny little bubble in the suburbs and helping manage menial everyday tasks while simultaneously reducing disposable waste.

Like I tell my students when they are elected to be group leaders in class - with great power comes great responsibility.  We cannot give our children the great power of technology without handing them the expectations to use it responsibly and then holding them accountable.

And finally...make sure you get a good screen protector because little velociraptor hands are sticky, slimy and snotty.

No comments: