21st Century Parenting – Are your kids getting enough screen-time?

Unlike time spent in front of the TV, computer time may be crucial to your child’s development.

Salima Feerasta August 31, 2013
Unlike time spent in front of the TV, computer time may be crucial to your child’s development


Wired parenting is an entirely new ballgame – savvy parents need to re-access their attitude to screen time.

The Google generation of school kids needs a radically different set of skills. While you or I might remember trawling through encyclopedias or library books to complete school projects, generation X, Y and beyond, of course, seek answers online. Even ignoring the issue of inappropriate sites that pop up for innocent key words, they soon realize not all websites are equally reliable. Search engine optimisation techniques used by commercial sites mean that the top sites resulting from a search may be sites looking to sell you something or earn dollars from clicks. They may be sites pushing a particular agenda and may not be impartial. Students have to learn at a much earlier age to question sources, look for corroborative data and sift through misinformation. In our internet-dependent age, these may be some of the most important skills they learn in school.

Programming is another area that is rapidly becoming more and more mainstream. You may not know how to program a computer, but learning to code may be invaluable to your child. From creative fields such as animation and journalism to supposedly geeky computer science and math, the ability to code will give your child an edge.

Just as writing compositions teaches children multiple skills, writing code develops a variety of aptitudes. Various forms of writing teach students how to organize their ideas, elaborate, synopsise and express themselves. According to MIT professor Mitchel Resnick, learning to code is useful on many levels. “In addition to learning mathematical and computational ideas (such as variables and conditionals), they are also learning strategies for solving problems, designing projects, and communicating ideas. These skills are useful not just for computer scientists but for everyone, regardless of age, background, interests, or occupation,” he says.

MIT is responsible for one of the best programs for teaching children to code. Scratch is a programming language and online community designed to introduce coding to children through simple drag and drop blocks. It can be used to make interactive stories, animations, games as well as a host of other projects. The best schools in Karachi already introduce their children to Scratch as part of their computer classes. Using Scratch is free and easy – you just log onto the website and after watching some simple tutorials even an 8 year old can start doing animations.

There are various other programs and apps available. Hopscotch is a great free iPad app that gives a visual introduction to coding for 8-12 year olds. Stencyl and App Inventor are kid-friendly programming tools that allow users make their own Apps, though Scratch is perhaps the best starting point for newbies.

So what about all the studies that suggest time spent on the internet or playing video games stunts brain development and social skills? The programs that help children learn to code may seem like games, but they are easy to justify as educational experiences. Similarly, blogging is simply great for developing writing, editing and photography skills. What about other computer use? Considering how much socialising takes place digitally nowadays, via smartphones and tablets, it may just be that the social skills required in the future may be somewhat more complex than we realize. furthermore  interactive video games can nurture abilities such as memory, dexterity, forward planning, perseverance and problem solving. Surgeons, for example, play video games to keep their skills sharp. This doesn’t mean that you can park your child in front of any old shoot-em-up game. However, it does mean that even simple entertainers like Super Mario Bros do have their benefits — not least of which is giving your child something to talk about in the playground. No one wants to be the kid that doesn’t have a clue about something that all his or her friends are talking about.

With issues such as cyber bullying and the prevalence of porn online, parents definitely have to monitor their children’s computer usage. However, they must be aware that their children are growing up in a digital environment. They need visual analytical skills that were unnecessary a generation ago. When we were growing up we never dreamt of the likes of Facebook or YouTube. Our children are similarly preparing for a future that neither they nor we can imagine. While reading, art, music and sports are as important as ever as pastimes for children, time in front of the computer shouldn’t automatically be seen as wasted time.

Oxford-grad Salima Feerasta is a social commentator and lover of style in any form or fashion. She blogs at karachista.blogspot.com and [email protected] 

Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2013.

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