There was a time when students had no phones, no tablets, no laptops. If they needed to call a parent they went to the office. I they wanted to find information they went to the library. Then came the dawn of a revolution when a few young people carried cell phones that did nothing more than send and receive calls. Mostly they were for contacting parents although a few enterprising and sneaky kids found ways to hide and use them in the middle of the school day. Mostly in the beginning teachers had control over the use of phones during school hours with only a few exceptions. Then the smartphone boom began and young people started bringing their tablets and laptops to school in their backpacks. There was no turning back from the insurgence that took classrooms by storm no matter how many rules the adults attempted to make.
One of my daughters was reluctant to get her children on the technology train at an early age but she soon realized that without cell phones and laptops they were unable to keep up with the rest of their classmates. Teachers were sending assignments electronically and communicating about due dates and projects via texts. In class much of the research and testing took place on tablets and laptops. Long before Covid-19 came along much teaching was already being distributed remotely. Without the same tools that the other students had my daughter’s children were struggling and so she had to cave in to pressure and purchase smartphones and laptops for them. She was shocked by how quickly they adapted to using the technology that still somewhat befuddled her.
In today’s world we see toddlers walking around with phones whose apps they know how to use. Babies get trimmed down versions of tablets with games and stories that teach them early childhood skills. Even the youngest among us are adapting to technology with ease. Ours is a world in which great knowledge is just a few keystrokes away. It’s possible to learn about any subject even in a remote area as long as there is some form of access to the Internet or a cell phone tower. The question is whether or not our children are actually taking full advantage of this remarkable technology or if they only use it as a social distraction.
We have documented cases of bullying taking place with both anonymity and ease via technology. We see a cesspool of misinformation roaring across our screens and sometimes the sources of such lies are our elected leaders. If our young are to use the phones and tablets wisely they will need to be able to differentiate between fact and fiction, history and hoax. They will also need coping skills for moments when they are attacked by words. The ugly underbelly of our advances is dark and dangerous and as parents, teachers and concerned adults we must all be aware of the pitfalls of giving our youngsters free reign with their very powerful tools. Sadly instruction in how to deal with information and ideas is lacking and we have yet to learn how to convey it without sounding like nagging, lecturing old people who have lost touch with the world as it now is. Nonetheless it is important that we make those efforts lest the very devices that we gave our children for their protection and education become their doom,
As an educator one of the most frequent concerns of parents that I heard about was that their young ones spent too much time on computers and phones. Sadly they were not doing lessons but rather playing games or chatting, often with people that they had never even met. They sat in their rooms for hours away from the families engrossed in a world that their moms and dads feared. The parents wanted to take control but were unsure how to maintain a balance between allowing the kids to use the technology to do their lessons but not for spending hours in a world filled with questionable people and information.
Technology is a blessing and a curse all at once. I am a big fan of the advances that have been made. Technology has made my life incredibly better than at any other time. I have used it for a full year now during the pandemic to teach students, visit with family and friends, order groceries, purchase and deliver all of my Christmas gifts. I have visited with a doctor without leaving my home and attended mass at my church from my living room. I applied for a mail in ballot and then sent back my vote with stamps that I purchased without going to a post office. I have watched first run movies and Broadway plays and special performances of musicians. My world is whirring with technology and I enjoy its advantages.
Then there is the dark side of it all. The use of technology to spread lies, rumors and false information has run amok. We are continually bombarded with falsehoods and then we begin arguing with one another over their veracity. Technology is reuniting friends but it is also tearing old relationships apart. It can be bone chillingly ugly and difficult even for well adjusted adults. Our children do not have the skills they need to navigate through the muck and the mud so we have to be vigilant for them. That may mean being watchful when they are using their phones and other devices and even locking them away for certain times of the day and night. Parents have always set limits and that habit is even more important now. It’s also crucial that we demonstrate to our youth how to differentiate between good information and bad. Finally we must provide them with the tools and armor they may need if they become victims of abusive bullying. In other words we must communicate, communicate, communicate with them.
We can’t run away from the technology boom but we can use it to our benefit and that of our children. As with anything else we have to work to prevent it from becoming a dangerous addiction. Old fashioned conversations and walks in nature are still as grand a diversion as they have ever been. Having responsibilities as part of a family builds character. Some of the old fashioned ways never go out of style or importance and they are good ways to begin balancing the lure of technology.