Generation G: Our Kids and Our Gadgets

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I’ll admit it. When we decided to get lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant a few weeks ago, we had high hopes for our 20 month old son’s cooperation – but it wasn’t in his plan. Between mouthfuls of tortilla chips and attempting to dump salsa in his lap twice (and succeeding once), he yelled, banged on the table, and was generally unpleasant. Great, we thought, we’re those people. But then I remembered my new smartphone – hello, YouTube Elmo videos! All it took was a water glass to prop the phone up and our little guy was suddenly as calm as we could have ever wished for. Score one for tech parenting!

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But are we on the right track?

Mashable has released a new infographic detailing the tech gadget immersion of tots, and the smartphone solution certainly isn’t an uncommon one. At least 22% of parents have used a smartphone or tablet device to keep their kids occupied while they run errands. And 77% of parents surveyed believe that tablets are both beneficial to children and help children with their creativity. Some more new statistics include:

­        — 38% of kids age 0-8 have used tablets or smartphones.

­        — More than 25% of parents have downloaded applications for their kids (age 0-8) to use. Of those applications:

  • 42% are of an educational nature (math, puzzles, reading, etc.)
  • 46% are just for fun

­        — In December 2011, 1 in 10 American adults owned a tablet, but by one month later in January 2012, that number rose to nearly 1 in 5.

So we know what parents think of tablet and smartphone use for educating, engaging, or just – let’s be honest – distracting kids. But what do the actual facts say about the efficacy of such gadget-heavy parenting? Let’s look.

­        — In a 5th grade case study using the Motion Math app for iPad:

  • 95% of children reported feeling that the game was fun and helpful
  • Only 15% of children actually experienced test score improvement

­        — In a middle school case study for the HMH Fuse app for iPad

  • Of children who used a traditional textbook before their state test, 59% scored proficient or advanced on the test
  • 78% of those who used an education app before the test scored advanced or proficient

When it’s all said and done, does it matter what 77% of parents think? Probably not, because thinking it doesn’t guarantee that you’re right – just ask the folks who declared lead-based paint totally safe a few decades ago. However, could smartphones, tablets, and similar gadgets provide a boost to more traditional avenues of learning like textbooks? Absolutely! The important thing for parents to remember is that data only tells you one part of the story – it doesn’t consider background, resources, financial situations, family, culture, and even religious beliefs. So while 78% of middle schoolers who used an app scored high on a state test and only 59% of those using a textbook did so, we don’t know what other circumstances with the tablet group might have helped them, and what circumstances might have otherwise hindered the textbook-only group. Don’t throw books out with the Zack Morris brick phone and hammer pants, folks. Books are still a time-tested way to make your kids love learning. Read to your children, talk to your children, and – when it’s necessary – fire up the old smartphone or tablet so you can eat a meal without World War III going down at the table.

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