For Better or Worse?

How technology impacts the way we live and learn.

Smartphones, computers and tablets, oh my! These gadgets can make the world a smaller place, relationships stronger and educational materials more accessible. However, sometimes technology widens gaps in relationships, spurs bullying, and keeps children inactive and unhealthy. Let’s explore pros and cons of a little thing we call technology while looking at prevalent mediums for plugging in.

Pros

Connecting Worldwide

Between November and December 2011, the Oreo Global Spirit of Childhood Report found that 67 percent of parents around the world feel technology helps connect families. This can be attributed to networking sites, such as MySpace, Twitter and Friendster.

Facebook is one of the most commonly used social websites. With 901 million monthly active users as of March 2012, Facebook makes it easier than ever for people to stay connected with loved ones near and far. The site offers messaging, photo and video sharing, private groups, event planning and other features. Since being founded in 2004, the site has seen more than 125 billion friend connections.

Skype is another great medium that keeps people in touch. The program allows video and audio calls to be made from a multitude of platforms, including computers, land lines, cellular phones and Internet-ready TVs. According to a survey by Opinion Matters, 50 percent of United Kingdom participants are willing to accept a job offer and move abroad because of telecommunications, like Skype. An overwhelming 87 percent of participants named online communication as the primary way of staying in touch with loved ones in different locales.

Keeping an Eye Out

In May 2012, a 12-year-old girl was allowed to open an account on the popular image-sharing app Instagram. When her mother ReShonda Tate Billingsley discovered an image of her daughter and an unopened vodka bottle with the caption, “Wish I could drink this vodka,” the mother became understandably upset. Billingsley used the platform to show the consequences of oversharing information. She posted a picture of her daughter holding a sign that read, “Since I want to post photos of me holding liquor, I am obviously not ready for social media and will be taking a hiatus until I learn what I should and should not post. Bye-bye.”

Within hours of uploading, the post went viral with more than 10,000 viewers. Billingsley says her daughter learned a great lesson about what should and should not be posted.

Beyond monitoring a child’s activities on networking sites, parents can stay abreast their children’s physical whereabouts. Able to be installed on cell phones, Life360 allows families to see where their loved ones are located. The application also permits privately seen “check ins” so children can post their location instead of calling parents to check in. Visit www.life360.com for details.

Accessing Educational Materials

Various companies like LeapFrog make techie accessible to the youngest of children with interactive toys, video games, e-books, mini-laptops and tablets geared for tots and tykes. These products purport to develop life, language, literacy and math skills.

With the popularity of iPhones, iPods and iPads, Apple’s App Store has a multitude of educational apps parents can download to keep their kin entertained and learning on the go. How Rocket Learned to Read is a fantastic app featuring picture-book pup Rocket. Children can read with virtual tome while playing with Rocket and his bird friend.

Stack the States is an application that brings American states to life, teaching children in fun ways about capitals, shapes and geographic locations. Children can even get acquainted with potty-training skills from Elmo with Potty Time with Elmo. All of these and more are available for download at www.apple.com.

Finding Evidence Online

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported in 2010 that 81 percent of the nation’s top divorce attorneys have had an increase in the number of cases where social networking evidence is present. Of all the social networking websites, Facebook was cited in 66 percent of cases. MySpace accounts for 15 percent of cases, Twitter at 5 percent and other choices made up the remaining 14 percent. For more on this report, head to www.aaml.org.

Cons

Oversharing Information

Photo and video sharing through mediums like texts, mobile applications and YouTube, as well as well check-in sites and apps such as Twitter and Foursquare, make it simple to instantly share images and the exact locations of where images are taken. As the example with Billingsley’s daughter reveals, it’s a cinch for kids to manipulate such technology. Unfortunately, people other than parents, including predators, might be watching.

AVG Technologies’ multi-year study surveyed 2,200 mothers from the U.S., Canada, U.K., France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. It found that 92 percent of children have an online presence by the age of 2. For 23 percent of this population, the digital life begins with the parents uploading prenatal sonograms. This number is higher at 34 percent in the U.S. The survey asked how concerned mothers were about the future of their child’s online presence. On a scale of one to five, the average rating was moderate at 3½.

Inhibiting Life Skills

The AVG Technologies study also pinpoints how getting accustomed to technology is replacing or at least delaying the introduction of life skills. Nineteen percent of children ages 2-5 can open a smartphone application, while only 9 percent can tie shoelaces. On average, 44 percent of children ages 2-3 can play basic computer games, while 43 percent of kids can ride a bike.

Parents’ ages seem to affect these statistics. Forty percent of toddlers of mothers age 35 and older can write their own name, compared to the 35 percent of toddlers of mothers age 34 and younger.

Constantly growing and expanding, technology touches the lives of users throughout the globe— from young to old, rich to poor. Parents need to keep up with this ever-evolving world to get the most out of technology for their children while simultaneously keeping kids safe and healthy. Like most things, it’s all about finding a balance.