I never realized how hard it would be to limit my toddler’s screen time. Despite my efforts, he has developed a proficiency with my iPhone that is, as far as I can tell, standard for his peers. He has even taken to calling it “my phone” and is flummoxed when the old solar calculator that was given to him as a plaything does not do what it is “supposed” to do (i.e., play music, play games, make calls, etc.). Whether it is through a phone, a tablet, a laptop, or a television, kids can do so many things with technology–and it is intuitive and easy to navigate. One of our friend’s children even tried swiping at a magazine page, and was frustrated when it did not turn electronically.
The split between what Marc Prensky called “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” in his landmark 2001 article has grown wider every year of this century. Unlike the teachers and parents who have watched technology slowly phased into modern culture over the past three decades, today’s students have been immersed in the digital era since birth. People joke about their children being able to program their computers for them (the old joke of children programming a VCR is now obsolete) and this facility with technology allows digital natives to engage in the world in a completely different way than many of us were able to in our youth. While many of us can bemoan this change in childhood and look back longingly on the time when baseball and outdoor activities were more prevalent than video games, the reality is that technology is here to stay and children are its consumers as much as adults, for better or for worse.