Childhood in the Digital Age & Making Good Use of Technology

Photo Rachael Pereda

By Rachel Pereda  (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – We went to a birthday party recently and when we got there, lots of kids were playing on their tablet, disengaged from the party that was happening around them. Daniel sat down next to one of them and tried to talk, but the other child didn’t reply, he was too busy with his virtual game. 

Suddenly, Daniel looked at me and told me he also wanted a tablet. I told him that playing in real life was much more fun and I got up and started dancing to the song that was playing on the TV. It was a song about a frog that moves its different body parts, while the younger kids copied every movement. 

Slowly, all the children who were on the tablet lifted their gaze and also joined in with the dance. Then, we played hide and seek, ran all over the backyard and sang happy birthday with a lot of enthusiasm. 

We’re living in a digital age that needs tech just like it needs oxygen itself, and children aren’t oblivious to its influence. Electronic devices are becoming more and more present in their everyday lives. However, instead of becoming totally dependent on them, the key lies in having a balanced and responsible attitude towards them. 

For example, at that birthday party, we used the TV to put on children’s songs, while the children copied the movements they saw on the screen. We were able to balance the virtual world with the real world in this way.

Technology is a powerful tool that can enrich children’s lives when used responsibly, and in balance with other activities. At some point, we parents have to turn to it to try and survive a chaotic day, avoid tantrums on a long journey or to get those five precious minutes we need to send some work off. On the other hand, we can’t forget that they will grow up in this technological universe and they need the skills to use them responsibly. 

Advantages of using technology responsibly with children

At home, we prefer cardboard boxes, costumes, experiments and exploring Nature. However, it’s also true that technology, when used properly, can be a valuable ally in our children’s growth and development. Some of the most significant benefits come from the way it enriches the learning experience. Educational apps, instructional videos and interactive games can encourage cognitive skills and fundamental knowledge. In our case, we are only using it with Daniel and for a very limited time only, because Emma is younger and she explores in the real world. 

Yet, we can’t ignore the fact that knowledge of technology helps prepare children for a digital future. It’s an essential skill. By letting them explore technology under supervision, we’re giving them the tools they need to prosper in the modern world.

Creativity can also flourish with technology. Digital platforms offer an opportunity for young children to explore their artistic side and to express their ideas in a unique way. This creativity can go beyond the screen and enrich other aspects of their lives.

Meanwhile, it can also be a tool to connect children with family, friends, and other children with similar interests. This social connection is especially valuable in situations where physical distance is an obstacle.

Ever since we left Cuba, we use technology to be able to talk to our family on the island. Daniel runs around the farm that he once actually ran in, by looking at a screen, while the grandparents can watch their grandchildren grow up via a screen.

Stimulating their imagination off the screen

While technology offers valuable experiences, it’s important to balance these out with time dedicated to off-screen activities. Free play, reading printed books and role play stimulate children’s imaginations and creativity in a unique way.

At home, we do activities that stimulate their creativity every day. We draw, we turn cardboard boxes into cars or trucks and a can of potatoes can be a lighthouse that lights up the small toy boat.

Nowadays, we’ve been building a puppet theater out of a box of diapers, while we make the puppets out of old bottles, colored plates and fabric cuttings. We are still building the improvised theater because every detail is handmade. Daniel is my no.1 helper, although Emma also draws and rips up the colored paper. 

We’ve got other children in the building involved with the activity. They are making their own puppets for the special performance which we should have on the weekend if we manage to finish everything. 

Establishing limits and supervision

Using technology with children should have clear limits and proper supervision. Parents play a key role in laying down guidelines to ensure screen time is balanced and doesn’t replace other crucial activities.

A careful selection needs to be made of the vast digital content available. Parents need to make sure apps, games, and videos are age-appropriate, are for learning purposes and are safe for children to enjoy.

Technology can be a bridge to bring parents and children closer together. By actively using technology with them, we can transform screen time into an educational and enriching experience for both parties.

Of course, these suggestions come from my experience with two children under the age of five. As children grow up, there are other risk factors you need to bear in mind to ensure safe interactions on the Internet. Protecting their privacy is paramount, as is giving them the right tools to know how to respond to bullying or harassment on social media and other digital platforms. 

Healthy activities to do with children at home using technology

Movie night at home: Parents can organize a movie night at home, choosing a movie that is age-appropraite that they can then watch together on TV. 

Cooking together: Parents and children can use mobile devices to look up cooking recipes. Then, they can cook together, following the steps and enjoying the result. This way, children can learn to follow instructions and develop useful skills when they are older.

Explore Nature: With the help of educational apps about local flora and fauna, parents can take their children out in the fresh air to identify plants and animals, and learn about the Nature that surrounds them.

Interactive reading sessions: Parents can read digital books with their children and use interactive functions, as well as sound effects or animations, to make the reading experience more exciting and attractive.

Make family videos and photos: Parents can involve their children in making family videos, which will allow them to work together to plan, record and edit content. At home, Daniel has turned into my personal cameraman, having developed a special inclination for photography. We improvise comedy shows about our everyday lives, we take photos of the pigeons that come to eat the crumbs of biscuits we throw out in the backyard and then we draw them with crayons or paint some of these images we caught on the cellphone. 

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