On IPads, Kindle, Laptops, Television and Authority

On questions about wild animals, I always have to be on my toes, as my son usually comes up with something challenging. Shame on me in case I give him a wrong answer. You see, he can sometimes use "Google" and find out the answer to his query. I just wonder what will happen if he finds out a disagreement between what a web page says and the answer I gave him.

There is sometimes a tendency to place greater emphasis on thinking than on content. A child learns not only how to learn but also some content. No one can deny that one of the major differences between a novice and an expert in a particular area is knowledge in that field. I may be able to prepare my tax returns but there is an accountant out there who is much more knowledgeable with the current tax laws. The same holds true for financial planning and investments. One can dive into buying and selling stocks and learn the hard way with huge losses, or consult a financial planner who has experience in the stock market. Being able to think, process information, and solve problems are indeed hallmarks of learning. But content is still very much part of learning.

Accumulating knowledge comes from gathering information. There is not enough time in the world to discover much of everything on our own so most of our knowledge are indeed handed down to us by our parents, by our teachers, by someone. How we receive and accept this knowledge depends in part on how much credibility we give the source. This is where credibility or authority come into play. Back in high school, it was evident to me that I had difficulty learning from a teacher whom I regarded as deficient in the subject being taught. It made a lot of difference when I had full confidence in my teacher and knew that every  piece of knowledge being passed to me had been well thought or vetted. Without trust, it was simply impossible to simply sit inside the classroom and absorb what was being presented.

In the age of information technology, young children are now being exposed to sources of information outside the influence of teachers and parents. Some of these gadgets provide a virtual world where a child can be introduced to something novel that the child has yet to experience in the real world. Touch screen technology has allowed toddlers who still wear diapers to navigate the web and explore a wide variety of applications. Even without a touch screen, a toddler can do this by simply getting acquainted with how a mouse works. Of course, the touch screen really brings accessibility closer to a toddler as it is no longer required to make the connection between the mouse and the cursor on the screen. With a touch screen, a toddler simply touches and things happen. How all of these things affect learning is still unknown territory since these gadgets are relatively new, and good research takes time. With television, there is research available and the advice from pediatricians is to limit a toddler's exposure to television especially if watching television deprives a child of more meaningful interactions with adults (parents or caregivers) and siblings. Whether this equally applies to IPads, Kindle and other touch screen devices remains to be explored. Most parents in the US approach this question with moderation. Toddlers may play with IPads but only for limited amounts of time.

A recent article by Hanna Rosin on the Atlantic, "The Touch-Screen Generation", talks about this new technology and the questions currently raised by parents regarding the impact of these devices on a child's development. The following video is an interview regarding Rosin's article:

Near the end of the article, I think, is quite an insightful paragraph that probably provides an answer to some of the questions raised by parents regarding the impact of technology on their child's development:
"Gideon tested me the very first day. He saw the iPad in his space and asked if he could play. It was 8 a.m. and we had to get ready for school. I said yes. For 45 minutes he sat on a chair and played as I got him dressed, got his backpack ready, and failed to feed him breakfast. This was extremely annoying and obviously untenable. The week went on like this—Gideon grabbing the iPad for two-hour stretches, in the morning, after school, at bedtime. Then, after about 10 days, the iPad fell out of his rotation, just like every other toy does. He dropped it under the bed and never looked for it. It was completely forgotten for about six weeks."
These devices may be addicting for a while, but like every "Puff the Magic Dragon", in the end, the dragon slips sadly into his cave. But a dragon does live forever, and technology may have an impact that goes beyond the time it is being used. Buried under the excitement of playing is recognizing and relating to authority.

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When interviewed by MSNBC, professor of psychology Sandra Calvert of Georgetown University said, "One of the things about Elmo is that he is so popular among small children and he is meaningful to them. This popularity makes children more interested in listening to what he has to say." Authority comes from a relationship that begins first and foremost with trust. Elmo, the Sesame Street character, becomes an important character in the mind of a young child. Any character associated with dependable information in a learner's mind becomes an authority on knowledge. Extrapolating this to later years, both social media and internet pages can become authorities on knowledge and information. Unfortunately, these sources are hardly accurate oftentimes. There are so many sites on the internet that provide bogus and incorrect information. In fact, hoaxes even outnumber facts, especially in terms of popularity. With regard to this aspect, it can be seen that giving proper attention to right program and content may not be adequate to shield children from a negative impact of technology. Exposure to technology at a very young age may give a child the wrong notion that everything provided by technology is correct.