credit: gretchichi

As technology continues to advance at an alarming pace, it’s not just the traditional old folks who might be cut out of the e-loop, but children who don’t have access to changing technology might be far behind their peers. The term “digital divide” refers to any gap between people who have access to the latest technology and those who don’t, usually created by disparities in wealth, education or geography. For example, a study conducted in San Francisco last year found that out of 1,400 families, 47% of parents making $75,000 or more had downloaded apps for their kids, while only 14% of parents making less than $30,000 had done the same. However, it’s not just access to technology but a fruitful relationship with technology that can guide children to future happiness and success.

How will constant immersion in technology affect the growth and development of this generation’s children? That remains to be seen, but it is undeniable that advanced technology is a permanent part of modern existence. However parents think about it, technology must be entered into the equation of growing up for the first digital age group.

Educate Yourself First

Being knowledgeable, aware and alert about changes in technology and how they affect your child’s development is key. This first ever generation of children born into a digital age may experience the world much differently than generations before. A two-year old may already know how to work Mom’s iPhone, and may have had a Facebook page since before she was born. This is all extremely new, and it is a parent’s job to recognize the differences between their relationship with technology and their child’s. For a child, it is taken for granted that the world is guided by technology, but parents remember a time before such widespread connectivity. Use your experience and your adaptability to guide your children through this tech-savvy marketplace, and also understand that their viewpoint is far removed from your own. Remember that parents set the first example.

Encourage Proactive and Mindful Connection

There may be no doubt that in order to be competitive in a world that’s moving quickly into unknown terrain, a healthy relationship with our gadgets is necessary. Being able to use a smartphone, a laptop and a number of other modern devices provides avenues to connecting with other people and information, which can be hugely beneficial for a child’s social and intellectual development. These children have greater access to the collective information of the world than any generation before, and therefore the potential for a high level of critical thinking, tolerance and understanding at an early age. Yet, it is the parent’s duty to foster proactive, thoughtful engagement with these advanced tools. Asking questions about how the child sees their devices, buying learning games and monitoring Internet activity may help guide the relationship in a beneficial way.

Also Encourage Regular and Intentional Disconnection

Tools without mindful usage of them can be dangerous, and it is important for children to understand the history behind the moment they live in, to know how the world was before. In order to move forward with a well-rounded perspective about how their existence is tied to these technological tools, disconnecting is essential. Cell phones, iPods and laptops have become like extra limbs to us, and using these tools to facilitate human thinking, rather than the other way around, will help ground kids into themselves without being overtaken by external devices. In order to deal with the stressors of modern life and to understand his or her individual strengths, weaknesses and desires, regular and intentional disconnection with technology is essential. It may be easy for older generations to put the phone down in another room while doing dishes, but for children born with technology practically wrapped around them like an umbilical cord, it may not be so easy. If a child is born into a world that encourages a strong attachment with technology, it can be difficult and even painful to separate him or herself from that apparatus, but it is vitally healthy to be able to do so.

Encourage Off Times

Therefore, parents should encourage “off times,” where a child is encouraged to become comfortable with not having any technology connected to them. It may not be on a parent’s radar to actively remove the phone or iPod, but constant connection without those times of disconnect can cause unhealthy dependence in the long run and also stifle inner creativity and problem solving. It may be surreal to parents to realize they may have to push their kids to play outside or use their imagination with friends, and there may be some kicking and screaming, but facilitating active disconnection can be vitally important to self-sufficiency, health and a  balanced relationship with technology.

Encourage Social Interaction Without Technology

With such prolific social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace, online chatting and chat rooms, message boards and YouTube, much of our social needs seem to be transferring into cyberspace. While these can be great fun, there is no substitute for uninterrupted face-time. Face-to-face interaction with family and peers is something that is vitally necessary for the social growth of a child, and humans have been social creatures for so long without the Internet facilitating real-time interactions must be a complement to online social networking. This means spending time with people without devices interrupting that time. Take the phone from your child and send him on a play date with a friend, or tell your teenager you are going to have dinner together without the phone even in the room. With a developed attachment to gadgets, these rules may be unpopular, but better for healthy social interaction in the long run.

Teach Focus

With flashing advertisements everywhere, television, video games and the sheer amount of information bombarding the senses around every corner, the overload of technology is virtually inescapable. Rates of ADD and ADHD have skyrocketed in the U.S. in the past few decades, but most people who exist in a technological whirlpool eventually develop some problems with focusing. It’s only natural to be overwhelmed by the swirling screens, and often children, not knowing any other way, become swept up in this mess and may develop ADD, depression, anxiety or other mental conditions. We are living in an Age of Distraction, and it is a parent’s job to help cut out the distractions for their children. Single-minded focus, like reading a book, doing a craft or playing an instrument, can be instrumental in cutting out the unnecessary chatter. Succeeding in school or work will require multi-tasking and focus, yet multi-tasking comes naturally to the digital era, while focus is a skill that requires discipline and guidance.

Creating Balance For the Future

Perhaps you expected this article to be about finding the latest apps and gadgets to help your kid get ahead, and while it is important to stay aware of the latest developments, a strong and active mindset to wade through change could be even more important. The world is changing so quickly and so unpredictably that the most important thing you can teach your children in a tech age may be how to have the mental fortitude and strength of character to navigate through it. We won’t know how the world will be in a decade from now, so whether your kid ends up going to art school or obtaining an online business degree, the skills you teach them now can have far-reaching effects. Children growing up today may not have a choice about what information bombards them, but parents can help teach them how to interact with the world in a healthy, balanced way. It won’t come naturally to absorb, assess and move through this overwhelming technological world in a thoughtful and ordered way (remember, no generation has done it before), so it is the parents’ duty to help provide a sense of structure, history and balance for the plugged-in generation.

Bethany Brewer, a freelance writer, writes about education and business development. Bethany has covered topics from business degrees online to in-house business management development.