Children and Technology

A recent conversation lead me to thinking about children and computing. I have two daughters - 7yr and 3yr old. The wife and I have been quite strict with them in regards to screen time, at least during their pre-school years. We didn’t want to rob them of a proper childhood by letting them get glued to various tablets, TV or gaming systems. However, since my eldest started Kindergarten last year, there have been requirements for her to do online learning such as Mathletics and Phonics Hero. Like many things, I feel that teaching them some of the fundamentals at home could be much more valuable than the exposure they get at school. I don’t quite trust the school system to teach them computing basics, since I’m sure the teachers aren’t that well versed themselves.

Many of us can recall building/upgrading PC compatible machines, installing DOS/Windows and having to troubleshoot problems. It gave us such a good grounding in terms of understanding how technology works. I somewhat lament this as an opportunity lost nowadays, of getting a good understanding of what is going on underneath the hood. When your first exposure is to modern systems (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS), so much of what makes the system tick is hidden behind layers of convenience. It’s like learning to drive without learning how to change engine oil or a tyre.

Even the very concept of an Operating System could be foreign to the current generation of youth in years to come, as I recently found whilst explaining this very thing to my daughter.

This is where I’ve come to believe GNU/Linux has a role. The entire system is essentially built around encouraging you to tinker and learn. Swapping out the building blocks, adding your own, or even creating new ones is virtually expected. The added bonus is the implied focus on privacy and security (which is super important in the scary world out there). I feel an understanding of these foundational building blocks is transferrable to using other systems if/when required to by school/employment in their future.

It was also very cool recently when my daughter and I got to upgrade the RAM and installing an SSD into a new (old) laptop I acquired for distro-testing and general tom-foolery (supertuxkart, gcompris) with them.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and ideas around introducing the younglings to computing:

  • The argument over limiting screen time vs getting them an early start in computing?
  • Am I on the right track or are the way systems are developing, everything will be cloud based and the need to understand personal hardware and local operating systems will be obselete in 10 yrs?
  • Has anyone found a useful approach in developing an understanding of hardware, Linux, programming and/or computing systems in general?
  • What things have you done to help safeguared their privacy online, and helping them understand the importance of privacy?
  • Preparing them for the inevitability of online bullying, which IMO can be a lot more insidious and harmful than real life bullying?
  • What kind of things do you do with your own children/grandchildren/nieces/nephews and Linux/technology?

Any and all additional comments and suggestions are welcome.

I feel when things are more forbidden to people, they will want them more and abuse them. Sort of like alcohol. Which seems to be a problem not in Europe so much because parents expose their children to it, and they have such a low drinking age.

With that, I have a boy of nearly two years of age. I have allowed him to play with technology items since he has shown interest in them. He even understands somewhat how touch screens work while playing with my tablet. Now that he has been exposed to things, such as computer keyboards, tablets, and cell phones, he seems a bit disinterested in them now. He would rather play with his toy cars/trucks and building blocks at this point.

I am also doing the same with learning type of cartoons. He does like watching those, and gets his fill of them after an hour then wants to go back to playing with his reguar toys.

On the other hand, I have a teen daughter whose mother did not want her exposed so much to technology at a young age. Now she wants to have every gadget available.

So what is one to do?

Thanks Trent. That’s awesome and one of the reasons I started the topic. I’ve learnt that there isn’t a one-size-suits-all approach as a parent with tech and anything for that matter in raising kids. I’d like to hear what approaches other people have had in the hope of picking up a few new ideas. I’m still yet to implement the “bell system” that Noah mentioned on the show a few weeks back, but I think it’s a great idea. That’s the sort of gold nugget I’m hoping to find.