The Interplay Between Development and Technology
Technology, or the use of tools to solve problems, is a key consideration in today’s digital world. As Hueya works with families–both adults and youth–our aim is to balance the understanding that technology and social media play important roles in our daily and familial lives with the right to feel safe, protected, and knowledgeable about privacy, property, and reputation.
Based on Hueya’s research with families and their efforts to become a more mindful, connected family in a digital age, we offer a few insights on the interplay between children’s development across several domains, the relevance of technology, and the role of adults to support this interaction.
Elements of development in consideration:
Early Childhood-Birth-8 years
During this time in development, children’s brains are experiencing a period of rapid development. Experiences and relationships help to build neural networks that pave the way for future learning across all domains of development. When children are surrounded by loving, nurturing, supportive, and safe adults, they develop a foundation for learning and wellness.
Birth to 2 years
At this stage, children are developing strong connections based on experiences. Children’s sensory explorations provide a foundation for learning.
Young children’s emotional capacities begin with their relationships with loving, supporting, nurturing, and responsive caregivers. Children rely on others to recognize and soothe emotional experiences.
Relationships are at the heart of learning and development. Through children’s social connections with primary caregivers, children learn to see others as separate from themselves. Early evidence of empathy, or the ability to consider the experience of others, is clear even in these early years.
Moral and Ethical
As children explore their world, caregivers begin to give feedback about acceptable behaviors. Rules are perceived as absolutes and reasoning is often dominated by the rational that something is either right or wrong. Defining something as wrong is often based on the fact that it is “against the rules” and that one might get into “trouble” if the rule is broken.
Due to the indisputable role of nurturing and responsive interactions with supportive caregivers during this critical time of development, technology use and engagement should always consider the role of the relationship. Using technology in real time to share face-to-face interactions is a technologically and developmentally appropriate way to use devices to sustain personal relationships and strengthen emotional connections. An example of this might be using Skype, Facetime, or other video messaging to interact with relatives or close friends.
During the first two years of life, relationships provide a foundation for learning and development. When caregivers are responsive, nurturing, and supportive of children’s needs, children develop a sense of trust.
Children’s early hands-on experiences provide a foundation for physical knowledge. Children continue to explore their world and use their increasingly sophisticated language skills to communicate their understandings and wonderings.
Based on experiences in their earlier years, preschoolers are building an emotional vocabulary and beginning to name their own feelings and can start to recognize the feelings of others. With guidance, children can begin to recognize their own emotional states and the behaviors or strategies that can help them to appropriately express emotions.
Friendships are often based on proximity and perceptions of shared interests. As children’s emotional development matures, their ability to build friendships grows.
Moral and Ethical
Adults can begin to help children’s understanding of morality by introducing the “golden rule” and facilitating communication between groups of children. Exploring the question of “how would you feel if…” is still too abstract for most young children to grasp. Instead, focusing on facial expressions and behaviors can facilitate deeper empathy and perspective-taking. This is a critical time for helping children to navigate exceptions to rules. For instance, if we’ve asked children to respect and follow the guidance of adults, we need to let them know when something is not okay and to seek the help of other safe caregivers.
While many apps and websites designed for preschool-aged children tend to focus on academic skill building or games, a greater need is to support children’s ability to creatively problem solve and consider multiple perspectives.
Young children continue to need adult guidance as they develop the skills to build and sustain friendships. When adults help to guide problem solving efforts, they provide children with the framework to eventually problem-solve independently.
School Aged Children
School years are a time of rapid development across all domains. As children engage with peers, teachers, and an increasing social circle, which includes adults and other children, they develop stronger associations and dispositions about themselves as learners. During this time, we see that children develop a stronger sense of self in relation to their participation in peer groups, special interests, sports, and school-related activities.
At this stage of development, children display a diverse range of abilities and proficiency across domains. As the complex processes necessary for reading comprehension, mathematical computation, and scientific reasoning mature, children are growing in their capacity to communicate their understandings.
With a stronger sense of internal experiences, children are able to communicate their own emotions more effectively, and they are able to see beyond their own experiences to understand that others may have a different perspective.
Friendships are increasingly important and the role of close adults and family members continues to provide a solid “home base” for exploration and social-emotional stability.
Moral and Ethical
At this stage, children need guidance and active opportunities to explore the ramifications of behaviors and actions. With guidance, children’s sense of morality and right and wrong can expand to consider exceptions and broader perspectives underlying behaviors. Asking questions about “What would you do?” or “What else could be happening?” will help to develop a morals and ethics that extend beyond the individual child to include the impact of friends, family, and community.
In many education programs, school-provided technology is becoming the norm. As children increase their use and reliance on technology for school, social connection, and entertainment, they will need a new level of support that may be distinctly different than face-to-face expectations. For instance, in a school setting, when a new child wants to join a group to play a game, we ask our children to widen their social circle. However, in online environments, we start to teach our children that this is not necessarily a good idea as the “child” may be an imposter.
Technology can support many of the cognitive skills of this age. Opportunities to creatively solve complex problems can continue to strengthen and supplement school-based focus area. Additionally, gaming apps and websites that allow children to build worlds and connect with others may support developmental needs for special interests and the opportunity to make choices.
Adults, including parents, grandparents, teachers, and other supportive adults in the lives of children play a central role in elementary-aged children’s lives. As children grow in their development across domains, growth can be uneven and irregular. Adults can help children to leverage their skills in one area to grow in other areas. For instance, when children are struggling academically, asking children to think about how they approached a challenge with a friend in a creative way, may help to open up a new strategy.
Tween & Teen Years
Currently, there is an exciting focus on the unique period of development we refer to as the adolescent years. Marked by complex reorganization of the brain’s architecture, it has been argued that the adolescent brain and subsequent developmental drives showcase many of the most desirable qualities of the human species, including increased creativity, flexibility in thinking, social connection, and emotional capacities.