Children and Technology – should we even try to stop it?

by | Mar 10, 2019 | Education

I still remember well how my father brought the first computer into our house in 1993.

I remember the first versions of Windows, the scratchy sound when we tried to connect the PC to the Internet, our first printer and how we stored documents on floppy disks.

My father prepared us an old typewriter by covering its keys with colored dots and telling us children that we could use the computer as soon as we had mastered the 10-finger system.

Later, in 1997, I bought my first Amiga 2000.

 

20 years later the technology has made stunning progress and I think it will continue at this pace.

This raises the explosive question:

what attitude should we as parents take on this issue?

Should we introduce our children to the world of media as early as possible in order to give them a good future?

But how are we supposed to introduce them to the world of the media if this is not “our world” at all? When our children, with their media literacy, will soon be able to overtake us, trick us and “leave us behind”?

And – should we even try to stop them?  Isn’t this media literacy exactly what will help them to live a successful life in modern society?

This was the topic of a lecture I attended at our school with speaker Angela Indermaur.

I found the topic very exciting and I would like to pass on some thoughts in this article, based on the lecture and the book “Medienmündig: Wie unsere Kinder selbstbestimmt mit dem Bildschirm umgehen lernen” (Media-maturity How our children learn to use the screen in a self-determined way) by Paula Bleckmann.
Unfortunately, it’s currently available in german only, as far as I know.

Media literacy vs media maturity?

I was familiar with the term media literacy. It is on everyone’s lips and is used, among other things, to explain why day care centers and schools should be equipped with tablets and computers, why it is important that children have mobile phones and computers with unlimited Internet access as early as possible, and that they are not prevented from acquiring this media competence at an early age. We, as parents, educators and teachers, are called on to encourage and push our children into it so that they don’t miss the boat.

  • There are parents who do exactly that, and who see “no problem in it at all”. They are happy for their offspring, who seem to have a great future, because they are developing into “professionals” in their media literacy.
  • Some parents also see it as “no problem” – because they know all the settings and apps to restrict their children’s media world.

In her lecture, Angela Indermaur pointed out another way that impressed and convinced me:

 

Media maturity.

“A person who has attained mature judgement is responsible, so that he no longer needs the protection of his guardian, but can stand up for himself, protect himself. ” p.33

Imagine a 3-year-old child who we leave alone in the traffic to have his “own experiences”.

This would not occur to us in our dreams. 

Nor would we let an 8-year-old drive a car, even if we knew that he had the competence to drive a car.

We all introduce our children into the reality of road traffic step by step.

But we are often called upon to do just that concerning media. More specifically, it seems most normal to send our children into the world of media traffic without protection and guidance. And this in the name of “media literacy”.

 But if we look at the developmental psychology of a child, this demand is absurd.

“Competence” is not the only thing a child needs to be successful in the world of media.

So let’s go back to the mentioned focus of the lecture:

 

Maturity.

 

“Maturity describes the state after completion of a development. As long as the child or adolescent is too young to reflect on his or her long-term goals and needs or to advocate their consideration, as long as he is too young to recognize possible disadvantages or dangers for his or her development, he or she will be placed under the protection of an adult who is committed to him and represents him”. p33

 And: 

“The person who has attained mature judgement is responsible, so that he no longer needs the protection of the guardian, but is able to stand up for himself, protect himself. ” S.33

 Paula Bleckmann vividly illustrates in her book what maturity could look like in the field of media:

Tower of Media Maturity

Picture taken from the book “Medienmündig: Wie unsere Kinder selbstbestimmt mit dem Bildschirm umgehen lernen” by Paula Bleckmann

1. Sensorimotor Integration 

“Sensorimotor integration means a combination of sensory impressions (sensor technology) and movements (motivity). In addition to the five classic senses of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and feeling, today one still counts one’s own sense of movement (e.g. hitting both forefingers pointed in front of our nose – even with closed eyes), the sense of equilibrium, which helps to distinguish between above and below, and the sense of rotation. It is it that makes us dizzy if we turn too fast.” S91.

As we know, this sensory experience is not present in the medial world.

 Screen experiences therefore mean an extreme impoverishment of the experiences of the little child – quite apart from the fact that the depth dimension is missing on the screen, that one cannot touch anything and certainly cannot smell or taste anything at all. 

 

2. Communication Skills

 The second floor of the tower is about acquiring the ability to perceive other people and to communicate with them.

Parents, educators and teachers remain irreplaceable. “E-mail, WhatsApp, letters, telephone or computer games cannot replace this maturing process, because real communication includes facial expressions, an “exchange in the back and forth of messages, announcements, expression of personality”. p.93

  

  1. Developing our own creative Power – production Skills

 Paula Bleckmann writes:

“Every white leaf can be a creative space for a piece of art, every little stick can be a starting point for a small musical performance. Production competence is trained with means that clearly have more advantages and fewer disadvantages for small children than film, television and PC” p.95

Playing theater, painting, drawing, writing letters, climbing a tree, or even recording a radio show, making a film or recording a CD: all these are unique experiences in which children learn to endure “not being able” (i.e. to train frustration tolerance) and to get to know and understand practical connections to real life.

  

  1. Reception Skills 

Those who have produced before (level 3) will be more attentive, more conscious, and more active.

Just like the other levels, the ability to receive can be better practiced in other areas:

“Reading goes before television, a printed encyclopedia goes before Google, your own theater performance goes before YouTube, a board game before PC games”.

 

5. Critical Reflection

 “Critical reflection is the ability to look at one’s own media behavior, but also at the behavior of society as a whole as “from the outside”, to look at and assess it, to come to a judgement and to draw consequences for one’s own actions.”  p.100

For example, to have the maturity to think: “I don’t have time to devote to my hobby anymore because of all the Facebook/PC games. Therefore, I will limit my time on the PC from today on.”

 

6.The String that holds it all together: Selection Ability.

 

You can only choose an alternative if you know the alternatives. This means not only being able to decide which game to play or whether to stay on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. The point is that the child is aware of the alternatives and has the maturity to include them in the decision process. “Do I really want to play a game? Do I really want to spend time on social media? I could read a book, go outside and play, engage in a game, spend time with friends or do my hobby?”

 

As we’ve seen with this media tower, it’s about much more than competence. We can accelerate competence by encouraging and pushing our children at an early age. If it were only about competence, we could welcome the attitude of parents, educators and teachers, to give our children free access to the heavy traffic of the media world.

But as we have seen, there is much more at stake. It is about maturity. As quoted above,

“Maturity describes the state after completion of a development. As long as the child or adolescent is too young to reflect on his or her long-term goals and needs or to advocate their consideration, as long as he is too young to recognize possible disadvantages or dangers for his or her development, he or she will be placed under the protection of an adult who is committed to him and represents him”. p33

If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that children and young people are not capable of “reflecting on their (real) needs and advocating their consideration”.

Maturity takes time. Maturity is a matter of development. This development does not happen automatically as we grow older, but must be nurtured and ripened step by step, as Neufeld impressively describes with the six levels of attachment.

In the next article we will take a closer look at why media literacy does not come about through hard control or an attitude that gives the child unlimited access to the media world.

We will also discuss concrete ideas on how we can practically create a responsible family life in the field of media.

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