In parenting articles, you read so much about the developmental skills that children should master, the words they should know, and the math concepts they should have down by certain ages. But we don’t talk nearly enough about tech knowledge. And I don’t mean how to use a mouse, or the fact that control/Z is the best ever keyboard command.
More like, the big important ideas about technology that will carry your kids safely and smartly through life. Because what we really want, even more than “tech-savvy” kids, is to raise good digital citizens, as we always say on Cool Mom Tech.
When your kids are old enough to start tapping your tablet screen, they’re old enough to start understanding some basics about technology. With that here are 5 really important things you can teach your kids from a very early age.
1. Technology is a tool that can help us do positive things.
We can’t emphasize this enough: When your kids see technology in a positive way, they’ll put it to use in positive ways.
So let’s help our kids make explicit connections between technology and its positive effects.
Video chat connects us with grandparents and far-away friends. Smartphones can untether parents from our desks, so we can spend more time with our kids – even if we have to check in from time to time. Cars have rear view cameras to keep us safe on the road. Apps can help us explore passions and improve skills of all kinds. Digital photos help us preserve memories. Video cameras let us tell stories, and to explore and express our creativity.
(Psst, that’s one of the reasons we’ve recommended VTech®’s KidiZoom® camera, and now, the KidiZoom®Creator Cam, which lets you do even more.)
As parents, we must be careful of the language we use when we talk to our kids about tech. If they only hear us describing tech as bad, scary, or dangerous, they pick up on our fear. While we want to keep them safe, we don’t want them to miss out on so many of the incredible things that kids can do with technology, and all the ways it can help kids flourish and grow.
2. Take good care of your technology!
Just as with owning a pet, owning technology comes with responsibility. Talk to your kids about cases and pouches, explain how to safely wrap cables and keep ports clean, show them how to clean their screens, talk about where laptops and other gadgets go when they’re through (i.e. not on the floor, thanks), show them how to turn off devices to save power, and above all, make sure your kids always see you taking good care of your own technology.
Your own example is the best way for kids to really learn this point.
3. Some tech is more age-appropriate than others
We know that saying no can be hard for parents. (It’s so much more fun to say yes, we get it!) But it’s important for kids to understand limits and boundaries early on, especially when it comes to technology.
Don’t just turn on parental controls, explain to your kids they exist for their own safety and protection. Explain the purpose of ratings for apps and videos, and why no, your second-grader can’t download that 18+-rated FPS game or teen-targeted social media app.
The same goes for the gadgets they may ask for – we generally don’t hand kindergarteners a $500 smartphone of their very own and send them to school with it. The same goes for our own cameras, headphones, and other high-end technology. That’s why we love gadgets specifically designed for kids, like the KidiZoom Creator Cam. It lets kids take the same photos and high-def videos they see us taking, only using a durable, kid-proof camera design that has parental safeguards built right in.
KidiZoom Creator Cam even offers kids lots of the functionality that’s appealing to them about social media apps, like fun animated backgrounds, green screen effects, time-lapse, and stickers. Only in this case, sharing their creations can only be done by parents, in a safe and appropriate way. Phew.
4. Not all screen time is the same.
It’s easy for parents to complain about time kids spend on screens – and for good reason. But balance matters. Not just in terms of off- and on-screen time, but we want our kids to differentiate between active and passive screen time.
Doodling with a drawing app, practicing calligraphy on a tablet, video-chatting with cousins, researching the stars in the night sky, playing math games, editing videos made with the KidiZoom Creator Cam – those are all active screen time activities that can be fantastic for kids’ brains. That’s the kind of tech use we should be encouraging and applauding as parents.
5. If you have a question, you can always ask a parent.
More than anything, what kids need to understand most about tech is that we’re always here for them. For any reason, any time at all, no matter what.
Whether they don’t know how to use a particular feature on a gadget or see something online that makes them uncomfortable or feels wrong, they should feel safe coming to us first as parents.
But to get to this point, it’s so important for us to keep lines of communication open with our kids.
And hey, if we don’t know an answer to a question, we can look it up together. Your kids don’t expect you to know everything. There’s always going to be a lot of new things to learn as we go along.
And hey, isn’t that basically all of parenting?
Liz Gumbinner is the co-publisher of the popular websites for parents Cool Mom Picks and Cool Mom Tech. She also co-hosts the award-winning Spawned parenting podcast with her partner Kristen Chase, as well as the brand new Out Tech Your Kids podcast which provides tech-positive answers to parents' top questions in 15 minutes each week. Liz can been seen discussing parenting trends, gifts, technology, and culture on shows including NBC's TODAY, CNN, GMA, Nightline, Martha Stewart, and more. She lives and parents her two teen daughters in Brooklyn.