Philosophy Professor Jordan Shapiro says children should use more technology, not less. But this comes with apprehension, as he discusses with IB World Magazine.
“Technology is here to stay and fight it’s futile,” says Jordan Shapiro, Assistant Professor of philosophy at Temple University, USA, and a respected thinker on education, childhood and technology. While he understands why parents and educators are worried about the impact digital technology has on children, he believes they should embrace children’s love for digital devices and gaming and join in. This prepares children for the inevitable digital future.
In his latest book The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World, he writes: “Your job as a parent is not to stop unfamiliar tools from disrupting your nostalgic image of an ideal childhood, nor to preserve the impeccable tidiness of the Victorian era’s home/work split. Instead, it’s to prepare your kids to live an ethical, meaningful and fulfilling life in an ever-changing world.”
He argues that if parents don’t allow children to use their devices for activities such as gaming, they won’t get to experience the playful creative practice that educators think leads to agency and autonomy.
Shapiro speaks to IB World Magazine editor, Sophie-Marie Odum, and addresses some of the concerns that educators and parents have about technology use at home and in school.
The 7 concerns of using technology
“There are tons of researchers that have tried to prove this. But there hasn’t been any conclusive research.”
“There are different kinds of concerns that we see a lot. One has to do with the ‘serve and return’ interaction. This is the back and forth interaction between adults and very young children, which is essential for developing the social skills we look for in teenagers. Many researchers have tried to prove that when children are using devices, they are not getting enough of that.”
“But there’s not really a 1:1 correlation here. For example, parents can give children non-stop ‘serve and return’ interaction for eight hours a day, followed by four hours of screen time. But there is no evidence that the screen time has a negative impact. The only worry is that the screen time eliminates the essential and necessary ‘serve and return’ interaction.”
“Multiplayer games such as Fortnite offer children the chance to learn, experiment and play in an online world, where they talk and interact with real people. They are learning conflict resolution and communication skills, which are invaluable for the future.”
“Another common concern has to do with obesity and sedentary behavior. There is an assumption that if children weren’t using their devices, they would be outside riding bikes. But that’s not necessarily true; it’s not a direct causal relationship. Besides, even if screens are displacing healthy activities, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to limit the screens. Instead, we need to rethink how we can encourage exercise.”
“Yes, of course screen time comes with challenges and those challenges need to be met. However, research doesn’t support blaming it for having a negative impact on wellbeing or childhood obesity.”
“There is no study that shows this is true or conclusive. To play devil’s advocate, there are studies that state that online lives produce more empathy because technology connects us to people who are different to us. I don’t know if that’s true because there are just as many studies in both directions.”
“The problem is that the scientific community doesn’t fully understand ‘empathy’. We tend to always jump to the conclusion that empathy is a good thing—which is called “the empathy altruism hypothesis”—but there is no real evidence to suggest that empathy always leads to caring.’’
“When we understand what empathy is, maybe we’ll learn how we can develop it more through text-based interaction rather than eye contact. I know that when I read a novel, I can feel empathy for the character, but I’ve never made any eye contact with them.”
“We certainly need to put boundaries on how children use technology; what they do with it; and make sure that we teach them how to use it in a smart, ethical, compassionate, kind and meaningful way. However, I push against the idea of screen time limits because I don’t think the framing is reasonable.”
“It’s about doing what is appropriate for children. There is no clear amount of time and no evidence that one duration is positive over another. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently introduced guidance for younger children but it’s been challenged by numerous experts, who say there’s not enough evidence to back it up.”
“Instead, we need to teach children how to use technology in an appropriate manner and that’s not an issue of time. Some things they’ll need to do for hours and other activities shouldn’t be done for a long period of time.”
“When teachers hear about gaming in the classroom, they think it has to be an actual game. This is a misconception. ‘Gaming’ can be as simple as a PowerPoint presentation or an Excel spreadsheet.”
“Technology is about learning. The reason children like video games is because they are full of superfast-paced learning, and it allows them to achieve the following:
“In order for learning to be fun, children need to see the immediate interest to them and we often don’t do that. Minecraft is an extreme example. It’s a good game to introduce once in a while for younger children, as it’s engaging and allows for an imaginary exploration that can also integrate a lot of other learning objectives–such as mathematics, empathy and creativity.”
But, if that’s all you use, that will be a real problem.
“It’s more about integrating technology tools in a holistic way into existing learning processes. For example, when we teach younger children mathematics, so much of it is about sorting things into colours and shapes. Why not also teach them how to use a spreadsheet that’s projected on to a screen? Or draw a spreadsheet on a dry-erase board? Adults use spreadsheets as a tool to make sense of sorting (among other things). Imagine how good we’d be at spreadsheets if we were taught how to use them from a young age.”
“So much of what we do in schools exists to take essential human knowledge and teach children how to leverage it using a particular toolset. In mathematics, we don’t use an abacus because it’s no longer the meaningful toolset to do that with. I think we would find a much deeper appreciation of classic mathematics education and more student engagement if we understood how to integrate new tools.”
“I’m not suggesting that we change mathematics, but we do it in different ways and build on what we already know. For example, while I think it’s important for my children to learn long division, it’s just theory at this point. It exists to ensure that they understand it. It does not exist as a skill that they need to master. A skill they need to master is spreadsheets.”
“There is a digital divide about the disparity in access to tools available. Everyone can teach children how to think in ways that are aligned with the intrinsic logic of a connected world. This can happen with limited or no digital tools.”
“I teach in a university and there is almost zero technology in my classroom. It’s about teaching a way of thinking and making connections. Generating knowledge from either a library or the internet can be just as meaningful, provided you’re learning 21st century ways of interacting with that information.”
“The digital divide becomes apparent when examining who gets more opportunities to play with the latest technology. Children who get to continually experiment with technological tools will have a better understanding.”
“There is a worry that it’s an either/or situation between technology or manual skills, but this isn’t the case as both go hand-in-hand. In truth, more people are interacting with more text than ever before. Many want to blame video games or phones for children not reading enough books but studies have consistently shown most adults aren’t reading many books either.
“Parents and educators have to lead by example. We want children to learn that they have autonomy when it comes to technology.”
“Education is moving at the right pace of discovery. It’s about making sure everything is right before jumping in headfirst—it’s not about following trends. Education is about generations of people and how they make sense of what matters. This is ethics, morals, personalities, characters and what kind of people live in our world. We need to approach technology very slowly and apprehensively.”
If you are interested in learning more about how to raise children in a digital world, be sure to get a copy of Jordan Shapiro’s book.