Thursday, March 14, 2013

Gary Marshall: Don't fear your kids' tech tantrums

Gary Marshall: Don't fear your kids' tech tantrums

Let's use this word once and never speak of it again: iPaddy.

That's the term some parents apparently use to describe the tech-related temper tantrums that ensue when they try to prise their tots' pudgy fingers from their iPads.

Normally I'd be quick to slag off a story such as this one: it's in the Daily Mail, it's based on a survey, and it's coined a new and rubbish word for something we already have perfectly good words for, such as "tantrum", "little monster" and "I'm going to sell the kids on eBay".

But the phenomenon of gadget-related punishment is real enough. Just this morning I found myself saying, for the millionth time this month, "I'm going to count to three, and then the iPad is GOING AWAY... FOR A WEEK!"

Writing on Mail Online, commenter Mrbadexample reckons I' m a bad parent: "People are using these as surrogate parents, why don't the parents talk to their kids, tell them about things rather than leaving it to an electronic nanny. Typical lazy parenting." Other commenters tell of violent four-year-olds flying into rages when their iPad time is up, and that Apple has "released an ipaddy for children... when will it end?"

Karl in London has the top-rated comment. "Why do 3 and 4 year olds have iPads anyway?"

Because, Karl, it's 2013.

I blame the parents

Let's start by separating the "lazy parent" argument from the "kids shouldn't have devices" argument. You can be a good parent and let your kids play on the iPad, and you can be a bad parent with a house full of encyclopaedias.

My daughter's been using gadgets since she was two. Kids' ebooks from the likes of Oliver Jeffers and Nosy Crow are wonderful things. We're using apps such as Mathboard to help her learn arithmetic. We have dozens of great apps for kids that enable her to do arty, crafty things without getting paint, glue or glitter on the dogs. We use Google Image Search to find pictures of things she wants to know about. She records her own voiceovers for talking books.

It's part of a wider mix that involves stacks of books, real-world arts and crafts, day trips to interesting places, nightly question and answer sessions and lots of conversations, and if from time to time she wants to watch Fairly Odd Parents on Netflix when I'm making the dinner then that's fine by me, as long as she turns the volume down.

Even the bad stuff is good. We talk about the apps that try to trick children, the ones with free downloads and expensive in-app purchases, and she's learning that some advertisers lie. She knows that she can ask as much as she likes, but she isn't getting a new app until the weekend, and only then if she's been good. And when it's time to get the app, she knows that she can't have everything in the app store, and that we'll sit down and find the best way to spend her virtual money.

These are all valuable skills, critical skills, and the older she gets and the more tech-saturated the world becomes the more important digital literacy will become. I want my daughter to be ready for that world, not to be afraid of it or to be manipulated by it.

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//PART 2