Bringing Up Children in a High Tech World

When we compare our childhood with that of our own children the most marked difference is going to be the technology that is now a part of our lives.

For me, this is certainly true. When I was a little girl in South Africa we didn’t even have a TV! Just last night my daughter had to her homework, which entailed drawing a dinosaur and writing a few facts about it.  Straight away she got the iPad so we could ‘find some dinosaurs’.  She is 4 four years old but she has no difficulty accepting that messages can be sent instantly, you can be connected to a world of information at your fingertips and that computers can be the most obvious learning and teaching tool.

This world offers our children so many opportunities and for many children, it really levels the playing field.  It is not only the children of high-income families who have the opportunity to experience so much more.  Everyone has access to information and can pursue their interests, reaching out to like-minded people through the internet.

The challenge for most parents is not in encouraging their children to explore the latest technology but rather how to stop them!

As with most things in life, there are good effects and bad effects of the computer-based activities available for children.  The good news is:

  • The brain can get a good workout! Skills needed to play games involve abstract and high-level thinking.
  • Children learn, to follow instructions, problem-solving and logic and hand-eye coordination and fine motor and spatial skills.
  • Memory and pattern recognition can improve.
  • There are many opportunities for multitasking and the simultaneous tracking of many shifting variables and managing multiple objectives.
  • You can have fun together. Many games are attractive for both children and adults and can provide a good bonding experience. Often your child can beat you hands down, which makes it even more fun for them.
  • Development of turn-taking and cooperation as some games involve multiple players.
  • Increased self-confidence and self-esteem as they master new games and levels.

The not so good news is:

  • Exposure to violence. This is the number one concern of most parents, teachers and researchers.  A scientific study by Anderson and Bushman, 2001, states that children who play more violent video games are more likely to have increased aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviours and decreased pro-social helping.
  • There is evidence that the more time a child spends engaged in computer games the poorer their academic performance.
  • Your child can be exposed to values and behaviours you do not approve of. This can include bad language and rudeness as well as situations where violence, vengeance and aggression are rewarded.
  • Children can become confused between reality and fantasy.
  • Computer games, including apps, can be addictive. For some children, this can be a real concern. Children who are addicted to games can become depressed and develop anxiety issues.
  • The danger these new gadgets present is an increasingly solitary existence. They can also have a detrimental effect on our ability to focus for any length of time on one activity. This is a concern not only for children but also adults and the focus of much new research.  Parents must be aware of this and regulate the amount of time a child spends playing with the gadgets as well as regulate the amount of time they themselves spend on their gadgets when with the family.

As parents, we must accept that we do live in a high tech world and the use of computers, the internet and an understanding of possibilities this connectivity can lead to is really second nature for our children.  However, as we know this is not without its dangers and as parents it is a good idea to:

  • Be aware that doctors have said it is not healthy for children to sit in front electronic screens for more than 1 – 2 hours a day. This includes TV, PSP, computers and even iPhones.
  • Use technology as a means to an end. Set up your child with an email account so he can send messages to friends and family members. If you know his password you can monitor the account. Do homework on the computer.
  • Encourage sports, outdoor activities, book reading and other family activities to provide a balance.
  • Monitor what your child does on the computer, make sure games are suitable and encourage a variety of games, including physically active games, scientific or historical games so your child is learning more than the mechanics of shooting or crashing that goes on in so many games.
  • Make certain times gadget free. For us, it is mealtime and bedtime where conversation and storybooks still rule.

No matter how busy a parent is, they must be aware of what their child is being exposed to and take responsibility for that. Children still need to have social interaction with their peers. The right way to bring up children is still to share with them your values, expectations and to be understanding of their needs and desires. As wonderful as the advances in technology are they mustn’t be allowed to erode the connection between child and parent. Time spent talking and playing together builds that relationship and so far nothing has replaced the importance of that.

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Creating a Bilingual Environment for our children

My child is learning Mandarin now but I am very poor in written and conversational Mandarin. How can I ensure that my child gets enough exposure to the other language at home?

Firstly don’t fret, you are not alone. Many parents are in the same situation and they still manage to bring up children who enjoy and are competent in the language. There are a number of ways you can increase your child’s exposure to Mandarin without actually speaking or reading it yourself.

Here are a few examples of ways you can do that:

  • By exposing children to Chinese DVDs and quality television programmes will increase their ability to speak Mandarin and create awareness of the written language.
  • Children love stories. They look forward to their bedtime reading ritual, which also offers parent and child the opportunity to enjoy language together. Listening to an audiobook, while following the written text of a story at the same time, is an excellent alternative to reading if the parent is not linguistically confident. This is a great way to increase vocabulary while the child absorbs the expressive dynamic of the language. You can create a place on the bookshelf that is specially designated for books in Chinese.
  • Similarly, singing is a great way to remember language. Matching words with melody are effective ways to build vocabulary so invest in Mandarin CDs and music videos– and singing around the house together is fun!
  • Television can be a powerful learning aid when used sensibly. A specific time during the day can be set aside for watching children’s programmes as long as this is followed by a relaxed discussion with questions that prompt the child to remember and talk about what they have seen. For the longest time, my son thought certain cartoons only came in Mandarin!
  • You can see if it is possible to arrange play-dates with children who speak Mandarin as their first language and ask their mum’s to only speak to your child in Mandarin.
  • Or see if you can arrange a ‘babysitter’ to come over a couple of times a week for about 2 hours. This should not be a dull tutor session, but rather someone who plays with your child and only speaks with them in Mandarin. Children learn far more if they are motivated, relaxed and enjoying the experience.

Even if you bring Mandarin into the house in the ways I have mentioned the possibility of having discussions about the stories, songs or TV shows is limited if you are not comfortable with the language.  In that case, it is important to arrange regular exposure to language outside the home.  An enjoyable way to increase your child’s exposure to Mandarin could be a Chinese cultural arts programme which involves music, songs, dance, calligraphy, brush painting, traditional stories and idioms.  This is a wonderful way to bring language alive, spoken and written.

Chiltern house forum is a great preschool that emphasizes on the creative learning of different languages and arts through the use of Edudrama in their curriculum.

The more opportunities a child has to use a second language, the more easily they will catch it and consequently feel confident to use it. Overseas travel provides one of the most dynamic learning opportunities for this to happen. In-depth exposure to indigenous culture and local vernacular helps put language into context for both the children and their families, whilst creating memorable bonding experiences too.

My own daughter was so proud of herself when she was able to translate the taxi driver for us when we were in Beijing. She just loved that she could do something far better than me and that I was so proud of her!

It is important to keep in mind that the most important link in the process of learning a language is the person who models that language, whether parent, teacher, caregiver or helper. If that is not going to you then pick the language models with care. Ensure that they avoid destructive criticism or negative comments and always celebrate effort as well success.  Parents can show a personal interest in learning a language, even if they are not a native speaker themselves, by encouraging their child to teach them words learnt in school. This is very empowering for a child because they enjoy becoming the ‘teacher’.

Finally, good luck and don’t give up, even if you don’t speak Mandarin well yourself you can help your child too.