Technology has changed the way society does things from communicating to reading books to sharing photos to learning a student’s grades.
And it seems the number of technological devices and software programs created with the intent of making lives easier or something more accessible grows every year.
Kendra Wolf, a technology teacher and technology integration specialist for Adel-DeSoto-Minburn schools, says children and teens use many different types of devices, mostly depending on their age. Personal gaming consoles are still the most popular item, but more are using smart phones or items like the iPod Touch. She says there’s also been a big increase in the use of e-readers and tablets.
“Kids are using these devices more and more to stay connected to each other and their family,” Wolf says. “It’s convenient. They text, post, tweet, and share photos, music and links amongst their friends. They love doing and seeing things in real-time, especially when they get instant feedback from others.”
Although she teaches technology, Wolf says she doesn’t use a smart phone, tablet, e-reader or gaming console. She and her husband rely on their computers to stay connected.
“Most of what I use personally — social networking, social bookmarking, news, online banking, email and so on — is all Web-based, so I only need a browser to do what I need to do,” she says.
Wolf and her husband use Google calendar to schedule their events and activities, and she keeps photos, documents, recipes and other things online “so I don’t have to worry about where everything is and can access it from anywhere.”
The couple is selective about the technology they let their children, ages 2 and 4, use. Screen time is limited to about a quarter of the total time they play. Their 4-year-old is mostly independent when using a Web browser and can use the mouse to navigate about three to four Websites. The 2-year-old still gets help from mom and dad.
“We’re OK with fun, age-appropriate sites, and it’s even better when they have educational value,” Wolf says. “As for gadgets, we want to be purposeful in what we purchase. We don’t want our children to have multiple devices or be connected 24-7.”
They bought a children’s tablet, a LeapPad, last winter because it was age-appropriate and had educational value. The children use it during long car trips.
Wolf says technology is fun and has made her life easier — it keeps families organized and in-the-know. But she says it’s also best in moderation.
“Having a 24-7 connection can take its toll mentally and emotionally,” she says.
Wolf says people need to keep in mind how much technology has changed just in their lifetime and then consider what they want their children to learn and help them to do it.
Charise DeKeyzer says technology has changed a lot from the time her 17-year-old son Alex started using a computer at age 5 to today with her younger children, Lillian, 9, and Bailey, 2.
The family has two computers — both of which DeKeyzer keeps in her bedroom for added control — three cell phones and several gaming systems including a Nintendo Wii.
Alex and Lillian also have cell phones, though Lillian’s is a pre-paid phone. DeKeyzer says she made both prove their responsibility first. They had to show how they would care for an item and not lose any other things before they received a phone.
“If they’re responsible enough, they get it,” she says, adding that first Alex started with an iPod and was then able to get a cell phone after he took good care of it.
DeKeyzer says she started to teach Alex how to use the computer when he was about 5 years old. She put restrictions on his use and what sites he could visit, just as she now does with her younger daughters. Now that he’s 17 she says Alex has full access to the computer and the Internet whenever he wants to use it.
DeKeyzer says her own use of her computers has changed through the years. She uses her desktop computer to edit pictures and her laptop for social networking site Facebook.
“Before I would do school work on it looking for jobs and things like that,” she says. “Now when I get on, it’s all that Facebook stuff. I’m addicted to it.”
Both Alex and Lillian have Facebook accounts, but DeKeyzer is their friend so she can keep tabs on them.
“I want to know what you’re doing and when you’re doing it,” she says of her kids’ use of Facebook. “Plus with the 9-year-old, I want to know who is trying to be her friend. I have their passwords. That’s always a rule. I have to have full access.”
While Alex is not limited in the amount of screen time he has, DeKeyzer says Lillian is allowed no more than 1 to 1.5 hours a week of computer time a week.
“There’s no need for her to be on it every day,” her mother says. “She can read a book. I’m real strict about TV and technology.”
All of the kids are allowed six hours of television a week. DeKeyzer says she saves her own Facebook and screen time for when her kids are in bed. She says she’s a firm believer in spending time with her children by playing a game or going for a walk rather than letting a movie babysit them.
“I do think that a lot of parents rely on technology way too much,” she says, adding that there are benefits to being able to look up information online and educational sites for kids.
DeKeyzer says she spends about an hour a week doing educational kids’ games through PBSkids.org with Bailey.
She says the use of the technology and the Internet has gotten scarier as people have figured out how to hack into other’s personal files and information. She says she also thinks people rely too much on computers.
Tricia Garton wanted her kids to spend more time outdoors and less time in front of the television and gaming console, so she implemented “No technology Tuesdays” last year at the Garton household.
“The technology is great, but there’s more to do than just sit inside and play Wii or Xbox or (Nintendo) DS,” says husband, Chris Garton.
So Tricia Garton decided last summer the couple’s sons, ages 9 and 6, had to play outdoors on Tuesdays or play something else inside if it were raining, Chris Garton says. Sometimes “no technology” days extend to other days of the week if the weather is nice and the couple thinks the kids should be outside playing instead of indoors. During the school year, the boys do their homework and then play on “no technology” days.
The Gartons allow their sons to watch 10 to 30 minutes of television on other days while they eat their breakfast before school. The family has one desktop computer and one laptop, which they allow the boys to use for educational games. Each boy was introduced to the computer about age 4.
Chris Garton says the boys asked their parents for some sort of independent electronic device for a long time, mostly because their friends had them, before the couple “broke down last Christmas and gave them Kindle Fires.”
He says the boys can play games on them and use them during road trips, though older son Grant tends to use his a lot for reading.
Tricia Garton also has a Kindle Fire and uses hers mostly for reading.
“She used to like that feel of the softback book in her hand but found this is so much easier,” Chris Garton says.
He says the couple thinks their oldest son is still too young for a cell phone even though he has asked for one. Grant is now in fourth grade, and Chris Garton says they may consider getting him a device that will allow him to text his parents in case of an emergency but won’t allow him to make telephone calls.
Garton says technology has changed the way people communicate and the availability of information. He says he thinks his kids learn more through educational websites than they do flipping through television channels.
“It’s changing every day,” he says about technology. “It’s changing so much. The computer we got four years ago needs to be replaced.”
Technology also has changed rapidly for the A-D-M school district in the eight years that Wolf has been a teacher. She says initially it was rare to see the teachers have laptops to use at any time. Also, a technology class was uncommon in the lower grades.
A year later, Wolf says, the wireless network was expanded, and additional computers for employees and students were purchased. She says it’s a challenge to keep up with the exploding pace of changing technology, especially when equipment has to be purchased in cycles and money to do so is limited.
This summer the school district underwent a complete overhaul of its network and hardware in time for the new school year. All student computer labs received new computers and some new equipment, which include iPads in classrooms, MacBook Airs and Chromebooks.
Technology needs vary by school, and district officials also provide parents with a Web-based student information system such as Infinite Campus, Wolf says. Parents of students in grades sixth through 12th grade can monitor their students’ education any time of day.