Small children today are more likely to navigate with a mouse, play a computer game and operate a smartphone, than swim, tie their shoelaces or make their own breakfast. Just how much has children's interaction with technology changed?
Do you remember when you played your first video game or got a computer of your own? Was it ten years ago? Or maybe closer to twenty? Regardless, no one I know shot their first virtual duck (or Mallard drakes, to be exact
) before they saw their training wheels removed. There was a certain order to things: learn to walk, talk, bike, swim, read and spell things correctly. Yet, most important was mastering emotionally blackmailing your parents, else you'd never acquire that expensive game console or Amiga.
The most important piece of data to come out of this survey is the fact that 69% of children aged 2-5 are using a computer in the first place.
Today, the order of things appears to have shifted. One needs only to spend a few minutes of random surfing to realise we learn to tweet before we learn to activate spell-check.
At the BETT conference I found five-year-olds to be more skilled in navigating our 3D interactive fieldtrips
than I was*. And although you might be still too little for your first bike, you can always get your tiny hands on mommy's PC, daddy's iPad, or granny's Wii.
What about the more basic 'life skills'? Will the baby scrapbooks soon list 'first targeted mouse click' before 'crawled towards the cookie jar'? According to a study polling 2,200 'online mothers' about their offspring's tech and life skills, more kids aged 2-5 can play with a smartphone application (19 percent) than tie his or her shoelaces (9 percent). Thank the gods for the invention of Velcro! The study further states that more small children can play a computer game than ride a bike. 58 percent of children aged 2-5 know how to play a 'basic' computer game. Even 44 percent of 2-3 year olds have the ability to play a computer game. By comparison, 43 percent of kids 2-3 can ride a bike.
“Technology has changed what it means to be a parent raising children today – these children are growing up in an environment that would be unrecognisable to their parents. The smart-phone and the computer are increasingly taking the place of the TV as an education and entertainment tool for children,” said AVG's J.R. Smith. “As our research shows, parents need to start educating kids about navigating the online world safely at an earlier age than they might otherwise have thought.”
For once, I can't agree more. Content and service providers do bear part of the responsibility, yet an obligatory 'panic button' on every social networking site won't help unless parents teach their kids when to press it. Yet, parents should not just offer their offspring the knowledge of 'safe surfing', but should also teaching them how to swim and spell (at least) their first name. Other interesting 'life skills' that should not be ignored are making breakfast (and the realisation milk originates from cows, not Farmville), as well as voicing 'thank you' and 'please', rather than texting abbreviated profanities and how to not limit your thought patterns to 140 characters.
Luckily, there's some splendid and more reassuring data as well. The tech gender divide – for which I blame the historical uneven distribution of Meccano vs tiny replica kitchens over the two sexes - seems to have vanished. As many young boys (58 percent) as girls (59 percent) can play a computer game or make a mobile phone call (28 percent boys, 29 percent girls).
But, as Smith writes on his blog
, the most important piece of data to come out of this survey is the fact that 69% of children aged 2-5 are using a computer in the first place
. With kids tech (and internet) savvy at such young age, our biggest worry might just be where are the 'good sites' to send them too? You need to be over thirteen to join the Horrible Histories
upcoming virtual world, and – somehow - Moshi Monsters seems nothing more than a commercially advanced version of the classic Tamagotchi?
* I failed to enquire if they tied their own shoelaces.