5:00AM. Thanksgiving morning. I was waiting in line with my “ticket” to purchase an iPad mini for my youngest son, who was 4-years-old at the time. My other sons had iPads from previous Christmas gifts, and it was time for my youngest to have his own instead of “borrowing” mine all of the time.

As I waited for the cash registers to open at 6:00AM, I began conversing with those around me, who were waiting in line for electronics and devices as well. When I was asked who I was buying this iPad mini for, I received looks of shock and disbelief. “Really? That young?” I shared how educational this device could be for children. I shared how my other children have used their devices to connect and create, but in the end, I still received a resounding, “that is awfully young” response.

This made me pause and think. How young is too young for a device? What is the reason for giving these devices to our own children and the students in our schools?

I am struck by one answer: It is not about the device.

Instead of debating whether our children should “have devices” at a young age, we need to engage in the conversation about the essential skills our children should learn WITH their devices.

It is not about the device.

As parents and adults, we know the importance of monitoring our children’s “screen time”. This isn’t just about watching television or playing video games; it also includes the time our children spend on their personal devices. We need to be mindful of what our children are watching and what they are playing. As parents, educators, and adults, we must understand and respond to the need to strike a balance with our children’s “screen time” and their hands-on play. We must be connoisseurs of that same technology so that we can teach our children the skills necessary to be successful for their future.

However, a device, such as an iPad with the best case, is not the problem. The games, shows, and programs will always be out there on every electronic medium available. We need to understand that our children are going to be exposed to and see a variety of different media at every age, and we need to teach our children how to respond to it. I choose to give access and opportunity to my children and my students to teach them how to use these devices appropriately and to use them as a tool for learning, not just for gaming. The earlier this learning begins, the better.

What is amazing is that our kids have found many of these tools and apps without us. Our students are connecting, collaborating, and innovating outside our schools. Some of their world is face-to-face and hands-on, and some of that world is on a device. My own children have become connected at a very young age, learning how to play apps such as Minecraft without me. The most intriguing aspect in watching children play in their virtual world is that they are creating, connecting, and collaborating with each other. The screen becomes a lens to other worlds, other domains, and creative thinking. Students are creating content, not just consuming it.

Our students not only need access so they can create and collaborate, but they also need access so they can become good digital citizens, knowing how to navigate the plethora of information in a responsible, respectful, and safe way. Students need to learn how to effectively search for sources, assess the validity of those sources, and then cite them appropriately. Digital citizenship encompasses so many facets of ethical and fair practices, understanding how to treat other with respect, and being safe when connecting with others. All of this should be done at a young age.

There are multiple resources for educators and parents to use to help children understand the importance of digital citizenship, such as Common Sense Media’s Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum K-12 and CyberWise Resources for Parents and Educators.

Furthermore, computer science is not just for computer science college majors any more. All students should have the opportunity to learn how to code. Coding is a literacy that is not evident in many schools, but it is a necessary literacy to prepare our children for the future global economy. The Hour of Code was started with this in mind, giving students an opportunity to learn about coding and the role coding plays in our digital lives.

Removing technology from our children’s world will only deprive them of the skills they need to thrive in a global economy. We do need to be mindful of what we expose our children to, however, we also need to be mindful that removing all technology from them will in fact be a detriment to them in the end.

These skills necessary for success need to be taught at a young age. The most important aspect to remember is that it is not about a device. Devices change. Apps change. Tools change. It is the skills that have lasting effects. Our children are never too young to learn the interpersonal and digital skills they will need to be successful for THEIR future.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, BeyondtheWhiskers.

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