Kids Don’t Always Love Technology

Opinion | 21st Century Skills

Kids Don’t Always Love Technology

By Devorah Heitner     Sep 7, 2016

Kids Don’t Always Love Technology

Many adults simply accept the idea that “kids love technology” without interrogating it further. While many kids do love a shiny new device, it’s worth looking deeper than the tech itself to find out more. Understanding their motivations can help us make better decisions about how educators and parents can collaborate with children to support their learning.

In my professional work with schools, I get many opportunities to talk with groups of educators, parents and students about their experiences. Sometimes the results are surprising, and go against “conventional wisdom.” This is one of those issues.

Kids don’t always want the latest gadget or app, nor do they love technology unreservedly. Just like adults, kids love the new possibilities—the things they can do now that were difficult or impossible before. They love the ways they can learn, collaborate, create and share with technology. On the other hand, they find technology to be frustrating and difficult at times—just like adults do. Here are some of my observations from my field work about the difficulties that kids have with technology.

Smartphone Stress

Getting a new device can pose unforeseen problems. A kid’s first smartphone is a huge milestone, so the decision should not be taken lightly. The biggest issue? Teens and tweens I’ve interviewed are often stressed by the feeling that they need to be available at all times. While it’s great that they are more connected with their social circles, there’s no “off” once you’re in. It can be a lot of pressure on a kid. Unplugged times are effective, and we need to develop other strategies to help our students manage social expectations and set realistic expectations for their peers.

Devices and Distraction

No discussion about kids and technology would be complete without talking about distraction. While it’s usually a complaint levied against kids by parents and teachers, I’ve found that kids are just as concerned about these issues for their own sake.

In the words of Tanya, a seventh-grade girl at a 1:1 school, “Even though they are fun, I sometimes wish we didn’t have iPads. I don’t remember things, my homework takes longer, and it’s hard for me to listen and type [at the same time].”

A boy in the same class shows how social pressure can be a source of distraction. “My parents say, ‘no double screening,’ so I try not to, but my friends keep texting me when I am doing my homework on my iPad.” Both kids can demonstrate how easy it is to toggle back and forth between tabs in a browser to move from homework to gaming, and back.

The kids who are troubled by technology’s effects tend to be in the minority, but their comments have led me to the conclusion that we need to learn more about distraction and focus. We need more research and more conversation with students about their experiences.

Educators need to give fascinating and fun assignments for students to complete. And of course, we should be constantly evaluating the quality of our 1:1 programs and tech integration in general—with their input, too. Not all kids are critical of 1:1 integration. But they offer such great insights when you ask them!

Teacher Troubles

Speaking of educators, not all of your kids’ teachers are as up on technology as you might expect. I have some sympathy for this, given how quickly things change and evolve—especially in a job that’s already extremely challenging.

One sixth grader described to me her frustration with school iPads and concern about her teacher’s naivete about what students are doing: “Our teachers don’t know that if you stop us from downloading something, we can get it again [as long as we] had it before. It’s still in the cloud. Once you download a game, you can go back to the cloud and reload it. Even if it’s blocked, I still have the app.”

Another sixth grader at a 1:1 school revealed, “The teachers think they know what we are doing, but they don’t! They are not really teaching anymore—they can submit everything to be graded automatically. School is now just all about them telling us articles to read. We did a lot of PowerPoint last year, and the quiz was just off the notes.”

In her article, “I’m a Teacher Who Hates Technology—So Let Me Design the Products,” Ashley Lamb-Sinclair admits, “Usually I integrate technology for technology’s sake, rather than because it truly transforms my experience as an educator or my students’ experiences as students.” To her credit, she concludes with a call-to-action for fellow teachers to get more involved in helping create tech tools that actually work. If teachers aren’t involved, there’s no way that edtech is going to get better!

Academic Dishonesty

Digital devices can “invite” cheating as well. Not to excuse bad behavior or shift the blame, but there are plenty of scenarios where students don’t realize that they are cheating. For instance, what’s the line between collaboration and original work, when students are constantly connected to one another? Not to mention that there’s more freely available content on the internet than one could consume over several lifetimes. It’s easy for students to mistake “free” for “available for me to use.”

In her article, “How Educating Students About Dishonesty Can Help Curb Cheating,” Linda Flanagan notes that “cheating tends to start in junior high, peak in high school, and occur most often in math and science classes.” The article offers some clever ways to respond to cheating, beyond simple punishments. Quoting Jennifer Tammi, a high school teacher in the Bronx, “Depending on the offense, a student might be asked to complete an educational assignment—on the correct way to paraphrase, for example.”

What I like is that there’s empathy in the response, rather than a knee-jerk punishment. When the infraction is not borne out of ill intent, education is the best alternative!

Empathy Works

Ultimately, we need to resist the stereotypes that kids love tech for tech’s sake. It’s too simple, and it’s not the complete picture. Just like adults, kids can get frustrated with devices. For all the promise of technology, there are times when it makes a task take longer. For all the new connectedness it offers, it can sometimes make kids feel that they get less personal attention from teachers.

Empathy is a good place to start—for kids, their parents, and their teachers. There’s a lot we can learn from one another, if we just listen—and seek to understand each other’s lived experiences.

Devorah Heitner, PhD (@devorahheitner) is the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World as well as the Connecting Wisely Curriculum. She founded Raising Digital Natives to help schools and families cultivate a culture of positive digital citizenship.

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