Saturday, January 14, 2012

A is for App



Is it really necessary for kids to have the latest gadget instead of an old-fashioned toy?
Every week I see a new one advertised and I wonder if my kids are missing out.
I wonder if I’m missing out. 
Google them and there are Top 10 lists of the must-have ones and they target everyone from toddlers to doctors.
That’s right, I’m talking about apps. 
The App Store is full of programs from recipes, music, news, games, educational resources and much more.
There are even apps that can monitor your child’s use of the internet and block them from accessing adult and other inappropriate sites.
I must have missed the memo that said smart (and affluent) parents were now giving children expensive technology as gifts instead of dolls, cars, bikes and board games.
I believe it’s a luxury to have the latest gadget, especially when I don’t see a need for it.
For instance, I have an ancient mobile phone that has no bells or whistles, because I don’t see a need for all the other stuff that comes with an expensive iPhone.
But there’s the catch: I don’t really know what I’m missing out on, and I feel like I’m being left behind because everyone else has one.
I have seen three-year-olds flipping through photos, watching YouTube and playing games on their parents iPhones and it amazes me that this is a generation that will never know a world without ubiquitous handheld and networked technology.
In the same way Sesame Street helped to teach me letters and numbers, apps are teaching a new generation but there’s one big difference.
Instead of sitting down passively watching the box, children using an app have to use fine motor skills to move things around, figure out puzzles, and hopefully learn something new.
And it must be helping as schools around the world are embracing the technology.
I’m using flash cards with my kids, but will they be more keen to learn if the flashcard is on a shiny gadget?

On the other hand, I bet there are hundreds of apps that are completely useless, mundane and take you away from your real goal.
For instance, there is one app that I have read about that was named Best Parenting App of 2011. 
It’s a glorified version of an old-fashioned rewards chart where children do chores to earn points which can then be exchanged for rewards.
Families don’t need an app to get children to do housework, they should do them because their parents tell them to, and also not because there’s a reward at the end.
The reward is that they are contributing to the running of the household, and therefore contributing as a member of the family. 
I also don’t believe a child should have a mobile phone until they can take personal responsibility for them (and that includes paying the bill). 
But then, my kids are still young, so I may end up changing my mind when I have teenage daughters!
My eldest daughter, who turns six in February, asked for a Nintendo DS for Christmas, but I’m pretty sure she doesn’t really know what it does. All she knows is that some of her class mates have one.
I want to teach her to save up her pocket money for expensive purchases like this.
I don’t buy the argument that kids need to keep up with technology; the real reason parents buy these gadgets is to keep up with the Joneses.
Don’t get me wrong, I can see some of the positive benefits with access to educational apps, portable entertainment for long car trips, suitable for adults to use as well as their children and music on the go.
But I’m already worried enough about the amount of screen time she has with the TV and computer, and adding another gadget to the mix would tip the balance even further towards technology instead of running around and just being a kid.
I did buy my daughter one gadget that she asked for this Christmas - a digital camera.
I felt that this was a gift that would allow her creativity to grow and force her to get up off the couch and interact with her surroundings.
I have set myself a goal this year to make my youngest daughter a complex quilt (it’s called Fairyland by Natalie Bird, if you want to look it up), so for now I’m happy that I don’t waste time hurling angry birds.
And I’m happy that my daughter doesn’t have her nose buried in a gadget, and still loves playing outside.
One of these days the technology revolution will knock loudly on our door, and when it does we’ll be ready to embrace it.

TIPS FOR PARENTS
If your children do have the latest touch-screen gadget (such as an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad), there are certain things parents should do before handing it over.
Apple has built tools into the operating systems to let parents control the content and the apps that can be accessed, so be sure to set this up, as well as the parental controls built into iTunes. 
You should also set up a passcode so that if your child’s gadget gets into the wrong hands, they are unable to access personal information.
Set up an iTunes allowance so the kids don’t break the budget buying music and apps.
Get a case and a screen protector to prevent scratches, cracks and other damage.
Consider getting the extended warranty, and insurance.
Also educate yourself about any health risks such as RSI, or risks to their hearing.

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