"How young is too young? How much is too much? Who decides?"

RE@L Logo 60px Thanks again to our colleague and guest blogger, Susan Schilling, for her timely blog today. Her question to us all is: “Who’s in charge?” 


Susan makes the following point:

“Yes, many of us may want access to all the newest and most powerful tools, but we don’t want ‘smart’ technologies to start to make decisions for us, either. We are all far better off if we can keep our own control of this new tool, and not let it control us.”

      Read on!


All this chatter (and legitimate concern) about screen time and how much of it our kids are consuming comes at an interesting time. In many ways “the horse is already out of the barn”, so our conversation today should not focus on IF, but rather on HOW we want our kids to digitally connect to their world.

PassThe SaltHere’s an interesting, recent viral video from Facebook that shows one parent’s idea on how to limit his kids’ iPhone time at the dinner table. Just click on the photo to the left to see the short video.

Many of the pros and cons suggested in public media today are a mish-mash of different, hard to understand opinions. Since the technology is screen-based, and has the capacity to quickly deliver graphics, photos, video, and live streams of data –in addition to text — the medium itself has special attributes: Spatial visualization and improved pattern recognition. These are possible today only because of the new attributes of the new technology.

Add to the spatial dimension the ability for the user to interact with what’s presented, provides a screen-based experience very different from the old static digital media. This allows the development of new and very significant learning dimensions, like more skilled fine-motor skills and more careful judgments.

Physical issues of repetitive stress-injury, obesity, increased aggression and potential addiction are among other negative results from under-managed, unfettered and inappropriate uses of the technology. These outcomes often result from the poor decision-making that new mobile-technologies still allow. If we want more prudent oversight of these new mobile tools, both parental and teacher monitoring and controls ARE essential.

The increased capacity and functionality of the technology and underlying programs now do more than count your right and wrong answers. They can be used to engage more of the higher order Bloom’s thinking skills such as analyzing, creating, problem solving, collaborating and evaluating. However, it is important to remember that these attributes are embedded into an app by the product-designer. These powerful functions are not native to the technology itself.

Other positive attributes are under the control of the key team that is designing and producing the app. Good designs result in good learning fun. They are motivational. They allow the user to set goals and use feedback to improve. They increase engagement.

Again, good things happen when technology allows for competent instructional game designers to embed them and then let the user coax those features out. Use of these powerful characteristics and attributes are under user control – either in terms of who parents and teachers trust to create the apps we allow our kids to use, or in terms of how much structure those in charge provide to screen time and learning.

Use of these powerful characteristics and attributes are under user control – either in terms of who parents and teachers trust to create the apps we allow our kids to use, or in terms of how much structure those in charge provide to screen time and learning. They increase engagement.

But caution is also advisable, just as with any new innovation. We do find short-term effects that can be observed and monitored. Often, however, we have little insight into the many ways this intense redirection of attention and storage is manifesting itself in our brain. Some research suggests that even the simple act of checking for new messages triggers a flow of positive pleasure to our brains. Constant positive pleasure-seeking can be very much like addiction.

We can hope that the intended consequences of the digital world – the increased access and availability of communication and content, leads to better outcomes everywhere, for all people. The unintended consequences, of course,  may not be known for years. Careful monitoring and increased brain research can help flag both the positive and the negative consequences of this “Brave New World.” In the meantime, be aware of the decisions you are making and the decisions that are being made for you and model appropriate technology use for your kids.



Click on the globe below to post any questions or comments you may have! Thanks!




Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, and his visionary response to educational reform, was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom was an experienced high school teacher of mathematics, a school administrator, and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. He is also a member of the RE@L Team. Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L and one of the founders of MECC Software who brought “Oregon Trail” to millions of K12 kids everywhere. He has written extensively on the history and evolution of Ed Tech. His work in forging new paths for MECC’S “edutainment" software was instrumental in connecting school-markets, kids, teachers and consumer-markets/kids/parents, and now serves as the new launching pad for RE@L apps and software.

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