There's something about headlines stirring up fear and revulsion over children's usage of technology that really annoys me. The latest story making the rounds: an AVG study (yes, that's AVG the antivirus company, not AVG a child development research group) that finds children are learning to use computers before learning other life skills.

That distinction right there should probably give folks pause, as I'd contend, at least, that a familiarity with technology is surely becoming a life skill in its own right.

But the AVG study goes on to cite a number of activities that preschool age children aren't doing, implying by way of contrast, that preschoolers are on computers instead. (Gasp!)

Kids these days can use a mouse before they can learn to tie their shoes or ride a bike. The latter insight is being bandied about as some sort of sign we're raising a generation of square-eyed robots who never venture outside to play (unless of course, they can carry their iPads with them).

The AVG survey does contain some interesting data, don't get me wrong. 25% of children age 2 to 5 can open a web browser. 44% of 2 to 3 year olds know how to play a computer game. European preschoolers are more apt than U.S. preschoolers to know how to make a cellphone call. At this age, there is no gender division between boys and girls in their technology skills.

What bothers me about the study, however, is how these online activities are juxtaposed to those offline. Playing a computer game versus being able to swim. Using a smart-phone app versus riding a bike. Making a cellphone call versus tying your shoes.

I'm suspicious, perhaps, because my life skills at age 2 to 5 only just included how to tie my shoes. And honestly, I think I might've been 6 before I learned how to ride my bike. So when AVG says that small children today are more likely to navigate with a mouse, play a computer game and increasingly - operate a smart-phone - than swim, tie their shoelaces or make their own breakfast, I laugh. I'm actually quite thrilled to think that a preschooler would have access to technology because, yes, when you're 4, you're pretty damn incompetent -- you can't ride your bike or wipe your butt or read. You might not be able to read yet. But you can play. And you can play with technology. If you learn at age 4 how to use a mouse, does that preclude your learning at age 4 1/2 to swim? Seriously?

I really don't think these changing skills are cause for panic. If anything, they should serve as a reason to teach kids the same sorts of safety measures we'd demand they understand before they hopped on a bike or jumped into a swimming pool.

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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