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Access to Technology
girls looking at a digital screen

Access to Technology

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One of the biggest challenges for parents is deciding when (not if just when) a child or teenager will have access to technology such as a laptop, tablet, or mobile phone. And there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.

Famously, industry leaders from the computer and technology industry are reported to prevent their kids from having access to computers and mobile phones. Household names like Melinda and Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and others are said to ban or restrict their children’s use of technology and internet access. The implication in this oft-reported news is that these technology insiders know something that average parents do not. While you may want to follow suit and shelter your kids from technology and the internet, I don’t see it as a practical solution. Youth are going to need access to technology to complete school assignments, manage their own banking, communicate with friends, and more. Even if a family decides to limit streaming entertainment, social media, and gaming, youth will still need to access devices
to learn on. That said, they don’t necessarily need a personal device to use all the time. A family computer or a shared tablet might be sufficient, at least to start.

Economics is a key driving factor when it comes to access to technology. For some families, it’s a financial restriction. Technology is expensive and with each device costing $500 to $1,000, or more, the expenses add up quickly. Add to that monthly costs for a mobile phone plan that may also include data charges. And if your household has more than one youth, it’s a juggle to figure out who will get a device and when. Of course, youth may earn their own money and buy computers, mobile phones, and accessories.

child watching tv

Schools too struggle with the expenses associated with technology. Classroom sets of iPads, computer labs, and laptop stations are a huge hardware investment. On top of that, enterprise-level software licenses
are required and there has to be dedicated staff available to update, troubleshoot, and otherwise maintain each device.

As schools struggle with these costs, many districts are now asking that parents start providing each student with a mobile device or a laptop when youth are in elementary or middle school and that request becomes a requirement in most high schools. This creates a new variation of the access to technology problem if family resources can’t provide the required technology. In addition to the financial considerations, some families need their youth to have access to mobile devices for safety and security reasons. Today’s latchkey kids often check-in with parents by text message to confirm they’ve arrived at home or school safely. And some homes outfitted with smart home devices require a mobile phone instead of a key to enter the dwelling.

Older siblings are looking after younger siblings. Families with joint custody arrangements rely on technology to ensure drop-off and pick-up information is communicated to all parties. And there can be medical considerations, too. For example, children with diabetes may have an insulin pump that is monitored via their cell phone with software that only works when it’s connected to the internet. Other students track their peak-flow performance with an app designed to help children living with asthma. In all cases, the mobile phone becomes a vital part of their physical well-being. In other situations, children on the autism spectrum and those with sensory processing differences may need one or more apps to assist their participation in school and after-school activities. Similarly, children with vision or hearing impairment may need a phone or tablet to fully participate in class. The technology helps them amplify audio and enlarge images and, in some cases, it helps them communicate. Youth living in a new place
may also need that device to overcome the language barrier with translation apps to help them understand what’s going on and to express themselves.

Add to that the challenges when schools embrace or ban personal technology. In some schools, tech is banned from first bell to last bell with the exception of digital lessons sanctioned by teachers in classrooms. The school-wide ban is a common strategy to mitigate the challenges of disengaged and distracted students. It can also help foster in-person relationships with fellow students. And there’s a practical limit to the amount of bandwidth a school’s Wi-Fi network can process. By limiting personal use while school is in session, the available bandwidth can be used for administration and lessons. That said, a total ban doesn’t prepare youth for real life. You live in a digital age and you need to guide kids and teens to learn self-regulation, privacy protection, social interaction, and other digital life skills. If they have no exposure to real-world conditions in school, how can they be prepared for real-world living?

Excerpt for BC Parent Magazine 27 Oct 2019 From Digital Life Skills for Youth by Angela Crocker
Reference: print edition starting on page 8. This excerpt has been edited for brevity and clarity.
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