I recently was riding the train back to my home just outside of Boston and I made some observations about technology and how in some cases, it not only impedes communication, but that it robs children from opportunities to learn if not used appropriately or at the right time.
Anyone who knows me has a pretty good idea of how much I love technology. I’ve got gadgets (iPad, Nexus Tablet, smart phone, Chromebook, iPod, etc.) and I use them all for different types of jobs, for different types of communications, and for different reasons. This blog post is not about disliking technology, but quite the opposite, it is about using in meaningfully.
Across the aisle from me on the train, there was a young parent with his daughter, who was probably about four or five years old. As the train took off from the station, the little girl quickly got into her seat and sat close to her father, who like many others on the train, had his smart phone in hand. As the train took off, the father periodically interacted with his daughter, however, he primarily spent his time engrossed in his phone (my guess was Facebook or another social media).
While the train moved along, I enjoyed watching the young father’s little girl look around the train in what clearly was a sense of amazement. She gasped as she saw her reflection in the opposing window when we were underground and she quickly peered around when we came out into the open near Bunker Hill Community College.
Now, I’m not saying that his father totally ignored his daughter, however, the smart phone was the focus of his attention. There were some great, but missed opportunities to be talking to his daughter about what a reflection is, the construction that was taking place outside the train, or the huge tents that were hosting a visiting Cirque du Solei performance in Somerville. Those moments not only are precious in nature and can never be recaptured, but they also provide children with opportunities to hear language, develop vocabulary, ask questions, and hear answers. That father could also have used his smart phone to show is daughter a reflection or to take a picture of the two of them on the train and talk about their ride together.
This wasn’t the only instance I have seen where technology, instead of increasing communication, decreased it. I often seen parents of all ages very engrossed in smart phones and iPads while youngster’s toddle around them or older children appear to go unnoticed. I have even been guilty of reading my Facebook updates or looking at my Twitter feed when I could have been more engaged with those around me.
Parents have a responsibility, as do other adults, to model appropriate communication skills for children. That isn’t just how we communicate in writing or verbally, it is also how we use technology to communicate, to stay connected, and to navigate the world around us. Children are quiet observers, taking in our moves as we text, Skype, conference call, facetime, Facebook post, and Tweet. To help raise a generation of children that are strong communicators, we need to provide them with opportunities to learn how technology can help communicate, not detract from it.
Ultimately, in our effort to stay connected (to ourselves and those around us), we need to make sure that we don’t miss out on opportunities to engage in what would have been considered traditional communications (speaking and listening) and writing. Technology allows us to speed up communications, to reach more people in faster ways, and to streamline our communications. As our global community shrinks through improved technology and communications, we need to be sure that our ability and opportunities to communicate don’t shrink too!