Anaesthetized by screen or energized by green? August 4, 2015Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Role of the family.
Tags: ecopedagogy, health and physical education, outdoor education, parenting, relationships, technology
from Tonia Gray
At the recent School Principals’ Conference in Australia, a tweet went out:
Students need technology to thrive, “home is where the wifi is “#SPCConf15″
The tweet gave me pause; it was at odds with what parents and teachers report to me. Many are increasingly concerned about technology’s broader impact on their children, in both dramatic and subtle ways.
Before I give the wrong impression, I am no Luddite. Like so many academics, I am heavily reliant on Wi-Fi and connectivity for my day-to-day work and even my social life; however, my concern arises from a convergence of factors. To illustrate, I’d like to share three recent stories that suggest technology is not an unmitigated benefit, no matter what a tweet might tell us.
First, I was recently speaking to a mother of a teenager (aka ‘screen-ager’) who recounted that her children’s friends had a very different understanding of how to treat Wi-Fi as home. She told me:
As soon as my son’s friends walk through the front door of our ‘home’, the first thing they say is:
“What’s your Wi-Fi Password?”
She was struck by the way that hunger for technology had overridden the desire for direct human interaction; friends gathered to share access to the Internet rather than to actually interact.
As educators, do we really want to force more internet-based interaction on our students? Do we think that they are not getting enough electronically-mediated connection? Or are we more concerned that they are engaged in two-way dialogue, with face-to-face interaction and human connection?
The same parent was dismayed at the way teenagers addressed one another when they met. She felt that gone are the days where we said:
“Hello. Thanks for having me over. How have you been?”
On the contrary, she worried that Wi-Fi has subsumed their world. Or in simple terms – it is their world.
As a health and outdoor educator, my concern with screen addiction is that interpersonal relationships are being affected in insidious ways. Wi-Fi and screens compete directly with channels of authentic communication, with first-hand and visceral experience.
In our 21st Century ‘Brave New World,’ I constantly notice parallels between Wi-Fi and ‘Soma.’ For those not familiar with Aldoux Huxley’s (1932) novel, A Brave New World, Soma was the fictional drug administered to keep the masses placated, unquestioning and inert – a source of pleasure that dulled people’s senses and capacity to reflect on their own lives. In short, society was tranquilised by Soma. Are our screens the electronic equivalent, anesthetising us and removing us from more intense connection with the world around us?
Which leads me to my second cause for concern: the iPad stroller holder. The ironies of the iPad stroller holder are many: the product forces the screen into the face of a toddler, maybe even before he or she knows how to really use it. It replaces the chance to look about while riding in the stroller with the necessity of staring at the screen.
Are parents are using technology ‘in loco parentis,’ or as an electronic baby sitter to replace the parent?
What compelling evidence is there that children can’t sit in a confined space without having a screen hovering before their eyes? Why don’t parents choose to interact with their children and their surroundings whilst pushing the stroller?
The Baby Beehavin’ stroller holder advertisement exemplifies this concern:
|Being a mom is not easy. Raising kids and taking care of yourself can be a lot of work.
If you plan to take your child with you for a walk in the park, you may as well take your iPad with you.
The Baby Beehavin’ Stroller iPad Holder is what you need to attach your tablet to a stroller.
Image from Baby Beehavin
Raising a child has never been easy. Although this is true today, our ancestors managed to raise us (and our parents and grandparents) without the labour-saving devices that we now depend upon: no washing machines or dryers, or even disposal nappies. And they managed with much larger families in many cases.
Some are using technology as a pseudo-parenting device, a form of pacifier that keeps the kids sedate in restaurants or tranquil on long trips traveling in cars or planes. Speech development is adversely influenced as a result of low levels of verbal interaction between parent and child. How often do parents hand their children a personal device to play games as a positive reward for silence or complacency? Another stark reminder of analogues between technology and Huxley’s fictional Soma: passivity is rewarded with a pleasure that encourages still more passivity.
Screens replace unstructured, spontaneous play and engagement with the natural world. We run the risk of making play, unhindered by fear, propelled by curiosity and a sense of wonder and discovery, seem too dangerous, too vigorous, or simply too loud.
I have long argued that young people need to actively and repeatedly engage with the natural world in order to mature. Evidence is mounting to suggest a direct relationship between nature and well-being (Children and Nature Network, 2015). Developmentally, children’s senses, their executive function, emotions, and physical, social, and intellectual capacities have been shown to be enriched by nature (for the academics in the crowd, check Bell, Wilson & Liu, 2008; Cohen-Cline, Turkheimer & Duncan, 2015; Gray & Martin, 2012; Kellert, 2012; Wells, Myers & Henderson, 2014, for a few examples). But more importantly, relationships are the key to academic success, especially child-parent or child-teacher relationships (Hara & Burke, 1998). Sadly, child-screen dependence can overshadow our need for quality relationships.
Children have never been so alienated from the natural world due to an increased reliance on technology and hyper-vigilant parental safety concerns. But they are also in danger of being separated from each other and from us, the adults in their lives (see ABC Big Ideas).
This leads to my third concern: screens are fundamentally solitary and sedentary, alone and inert. This combination of solitude and stillness is a recipe for a cocktail of lifestyle health problems. We run the risk of long-term consequences – heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity. Even before the situation gets so dire, we in physical education notice that some school-aged children are simply not capable of doing some of the most basic bodily skills that we once took for granted: running, jumping, skipping, climbing, balancing, throwing a ball.
In terms of solitude, our experiences of electricity blackouts have changed drastically, especially when loss of electricity means the Wi-Fi disappears. For the first few minutes or even hours, we experience withdrawal symptoms. Some families have to rediscover how to communicate – face-to-face without our screens, can we remember how to interact? Maybe we need a ‘digital detox‘?
In this sense, the tweet is correct: home (and school) is where technology dependency starts. Both could instead provide connected “play-able spaces” that offer absorbing and open-ended challenge activities for children rather than screens to reward them for passivity.
Most importantly, home and school should foster social connectedness where children are drawn together into common experiences. Schools and homes should be designed for richness of environment using engaging sensory materials which incorporate a sense of delight and containment. And natural green spaces are essential for both home and school, to energise and delight us.
Has Wi-Fi become the new ‘Soma’ for our ‘Brave New World’? In response to the tweet about home being where the Wi-Fi is, I would suggest:
“Students need quality interpersonal relationships at home and in nature for them to thrive. It starts with their parents and with schools.”
ABC Big Ideas http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2014/05/16/4005866.htm accessed 14 June, 2015.
Bell, J., Wilson, J. & Liu, G. (2008). Neighborhood greenness and 2-year changes in body mass index of children and youth. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 35(6), 547-553.
Children and Nature Network (2015). Nature and Children’s Health: Effects of the natural environment on children’s health & well-being https://www.childrenandnature.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/CNN_2015-Nature-Childrens-Health-HANDOUT_-Wells.pdf
Cohen-Cline, H., Turkheimer E. & Duncan G. (2015). Access to Green Space, Physical Activity and Mental Health: A Twin Study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 69:523-529. doi:10.1136/jech-2014-204667
Feldman, J. (2015). Health benefits of urban vegetation and green space: Research roundup http://journalistsresource.org/studies/environment/cities/health-benefits-urban-green-space-research-roundup Accessed June 15
Gray, T. & Martin, P. (2012). The role and place of outdoor education in the Australian National Curriculum, Australian Journal of Outdoor Education. 16(1), 39-50.
Hara, S. & Burke, D. (1998). Parent involvement: The key to improved student achievement. School Community Journal, 8(2), 9-19.
Kellert, S. (2012). Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World. New Haven: Yale Press.
Wells, N, Myers, B. & Henderson, C. (2014). School gardens and physical activity: A randomized controlled trial of low-income elementary schools. Preventive Medicine, 69, S27-S33. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.10.012
Tags: children and media, Education and community, parenting, technology and education, values education
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from Joanne Orlando
Children growing up in a world of social media are developing a very different conception of privacy to that of their parents. Ed Ivanushkin/Flickr, CC BY-SA
Have you seen the how-to video of a teenage girl styling her hair that went disastrously wrong? She was obviously very disturbed by what happened, yet still uploaded the footage onto YouTube. Do you think a 45 or 50 year-old would upload an equivalent video of themselves?
The majority of young people now share lots of things online that many adults question and feel uncomfortable about: their likes, dislikes, personal views, who they’re in a relationship with, where they are, images of themselves and others doing things they should or maybe shouldn’t be doing.
In fact, a study undertaken in the US by Pew Research found that 91% of 12-to-17-year-olds posted selfies online, 24% posted videos of themselves. Another 91% were happy posting their real name, 82% their birthday, 71% where they live and the school they attend, 53% their email address and 20% their mobile phone number.
Children’s fondness for online sharing is a global phenomenon, and in response governments internationally have initiated awareness campaigns that aim to ensure children are more private online.
In the UK, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children recently launched a Share Aware campaign. This includes the recent TV advertisement, called I saw your willy, which depicts the ill-fated consequences of a young boy who as a joke, texts a photo of his penis to his friend.
The ad emphasises to children the need to keep personal information about themselves offline and private.
Similarly the Australian Federal Police have launched Cyber safety and ThinkUKnow presentations for school students, which highlights the social problems that can arise when you’re having fun online.
Adults often interpret children’s constant online sharing to mean that they don’t care about privacy and/or don’t understand the potential longer-term issues. There is some truth to this perspective. But simply labeling children as either disobedient or naïve is too simplistic. There is an important need to understand why children are overstepping adult-defined marks of privacy online.
In the words of Facebook, our relationship status with privacy can be summed up as: it’s complicated.
Part of the complexity comes down to how privacy is defined. Many adults understand privacy to mean being selective about what one reveals about themselves so as not to reveal too much personal information. We often assume that children will adopt the same conceptualisation, but should we?
Privacy is a fluid notion. Think of Victorian times and the imperative for women to keep their ankles hidden. Part of the reason its definition is shaped and reshaped is due to the changing social environment in which we live. This idea is useful for thinking about why children divulge so much information online.
Children are growing up in public (not private) times, in which people freely and constantly reveal themselves on their screens. This is not solely associated with physical nudity and the stream of semi-clad women that constantly inhabit advertisements, music videos and the like. An environment that idolises nudity certainly contributes to children seeing such behaviour as the norm. Privacy, however, is not just about nudity and sex.
Given the exponential growth of reality shows and social media, children now have unprecedented access to the inner thoughts and personal actions of others. Children are growing up watching real people freely share their deep personal ideas, experiences, opinions and actions. The very purpose of these mediums is to encourage such sharing of information!
Children watch everyday people in the Big Brother house openly discuss their sexual experiences, develop friendships, go to the toilet, get ready after their morning shower and, explain deep personal childhood issues.
Similarly, they watch Survivor and The Bachelor where people can reveal the darker side of their ambitions, world-views and ways of dealing with others. Their revelations are under the guise of competition however they offer subliminal messages about what we can and should share publicly share.
Consistently watching others reveal themselves on screen feeds children’s understanding of what is private information and what isn’t. Its impact is strengthened because children watch these revelations on their personal screen such as their tablet or mobile, which can make it more of an intimate, one to one connection for the child.
Children are growing up in a world saturated in social media, and their notion of privacy is adapting in response. Jim Sneddon/Flickr
Add to this, the dynamic stage in life young people are at, which is characterised by risk-taking behaviour. This combination results in the understanding that sharing what many adults might consider to be private ideas, is really just part of life.
In previous generations it was assumed that the average person wouldn’t want to give up privacy. But for this generation, giving up privacy for a social life, fame (or infamy for some), easy access to shopping and studying or working from home is the norm.
Children’s penchant for online sharing is a much larger cultural transformation than it’s given credit for. The whole idea of what is private and what is public is being disrupted and reshaped by new screen-driven interests and activities.
There is a need to move away from simply judging and reprimanding for their online sharing habits. There is always a need for safety and awareness campaigns, although it is also important to move beyond older and outmoded views of privacy so that we can actually understand young people’s privacy negotiations.
In this way we might have more of a chance to meaningfully support negotiations that are transparent, equitable and foster children’s well-being.
This post was previously published on The Conversation.
Tags: literacy education, parenting, technology and education
from Jane Hunter
A parent with a small child in a stroller is walking along the footpath with headphones in. The child is crying, the parent is oblivious.
A parent walks into a cafe engaged in conversation on the phone, with a child tagging along. The parent orders a coffee and a drink for the child. The parent sits down and continues talking on the phone. A tablet computer is pulled out of the parent’s bag and passed to the child. The parent continues talking on the phone.
A parent enters a doctor’s waiting room with child in arms, sits down; the child is placed on a nearby chair. The child is handed a mobile phone to play with, while waiting.
Is technology the villain?
As a parent and educator I encourage teachers to integrate technology in learning at schools. I have done a number of large studies in the area, and studies show educational programs on computers and other devices have great potential to improve early learning.
But primary school principals and early years’ teachers have expressed concern to me about the increased numbers of kindergarten students with obvious speech delays – so much so that in many schools speech therapists have been called in.
One inner-city Sydney school principal said:
From 62 kindergarten children this year, 11 require speech therapy. That is almost 18% of the cohort. While I am an advocate for using technology in education, I am very concerned about basic human skills like speech not being as developed as well as they could be when young children start school.
Are parents relying on technological devices to entertain their children – known as “pass ‘n’ play” – rather than direct conversation, story reading, playing games and make-believe, and other forms of quality interaction?
There aren’t enough studies on the effects of parents’ use of technology on children’s speech development to make definitive claims, but the fact that it has been raised by teachers and principals suggests we need to look into the issue more closely.
Pass ‘n’ play
This is just as it sounds: the parent passes the child a technological device to play with while in the café or in the doctor’s waiting room. While technology certainly has its place in childhood development, devices should be used as active tools providing quality interactions, not as pacifiers.
Parents should use the device with an educational app or game to question and talk about what is happening on screen. If technological devices are just “inbuilt babysitters” or “moment fillers” they are not fulfilling the educational capacity for which they could be used.
Similar fears of declining familial interactions were raised with the promulgation of television in the 1950s. The main difference here, however, is that these smart phones and tablet computers are carried everywhere we go.
What does the research say?
A UK study suggested “technology gadgets are blamed for a 70% leap in speech problems in the past six years”. In a follow-up article, a US paediatric speech pathologist asked whether technology is damaging children’s speech and language skills; it concluded too much time on devices is definitely playing a role.
When parents are endlessly busy on computers, phones, tablets and watching TV, that is time they are not spending interacting with their child. https://www.webchild.com.au/read/viewpoints/touch-screen-technology-and-children”>Brain scientist Dr Jordy Kaufman argued that in 2013 there were no scientific studies on the consequences of the use of technological devices by very young children. Research at the Swinburne BabyLab is being undertaken to fill this gap. Kerry Staples an early childhood specialist at the University of Western Sydney, adds:
We need some caution here – to say it’s all down to technological devices and parents’ overuse is too simplistic. Technology holds tremendous potential for young children but interactions between parents and children while using tablets and mobile phones is what I’d like to see more of.
Turn off the devices and talk
In his book Program or Be Programmed Douglas Rushkoff implores us to “not always be on”. Children do learn from TV and from using apps on devices and by using other technologies, but speech, language and social skills are learnt from real interactions with people. Technological devices can be used better, especially with young children.
This article was originally published on The Conversation in March 2014.
Dr Jane Hunter is a lecturer in the School of Education and an early career researcher in the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. The subject of her recent book, ‘High Possibility Classrooms’, is outlined in a previous blog post.