Some Discussion Around Children And Tablet Computing

from the good,-bad-or-in-how-you-use-it? dept

This post is Sponsored by ASUS Windows Slate, in partnership with Microsoft and SAYMedia — as is fully explained in the post — but the content and views are entirely my own.

David Pogue, over at the NY Times, had a fascinating post last week about the debate that goes through his head concerning children using iPads and other tablet/smartphone devices. He worries that his son is too engrossed in using it, but the more he works through the issue, he begins to realize that maybe it’s not as big a problem as he originally thought, and it’s not necessarily the same thing as plopping a kid in front of a TV — which many people agree is probably not the best idea:

What makes my feelings on this subject even more complicated is that, in general, my 6-year-old isn’t playing mindless video games. He’s not allowed to play shoot-’em-ups or violent games at all. Instead, he’s encouraged to play creative apps — and most of the time, he does.

[…] Come on, how can apps like that be bad for a kid? Is it really that much different from playing with paper cutouts? Or blocks? Or a toy drum set?

When he does play games, he favors thinking games like Cut the Rope (a clever physics-based puzzle game) or Rush Hour (strategy puzzles). Heck, even Angry Birds involves some thinking. You have to plan ahead and calculate and use resources wisely.

In the old days, we used to tut-tut about how much TV kids watched — but parents usually made an exception for educational shows like “Sesame Street” and “Between the Lions.” How is this any different? Shouldn’t we make exceptions for creative and problem-solving apps?

He goes on to note that we shouldn’t just assume that something is “bad” for kids because it’s electronic, and that perhaps use in moderation makes plenty of sense. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot as well, as a father, in trying to figure out what’s appropriate technology-wise for my kid to use.

So, with that, it seemed like a perfect opportunity when SAYMedia, along with Microsoft, approached us about participating in a new “conversational” campaign they’re running, getting people discussing what are the best ways for parents to use tablets with kids. As you may see on the website directly, we have a unit between the first and second story, which is a “conversational” unit, that lets you input your own thoughts on the topic, in order to get some wider ideas. Beyond the general interest in the topic, we were interested in experimenting with this type of campaign, because (as we’ve stated for years), we like to see what happens when you build “marketing” or “ad” campaigns that aren’t one-directional, but which really involve communities, and really involve getting their thoughts on things. We hope some of you will also find it worthwhile to participate in this discussion — and let us know your own thoughts on the role of such technology in the lives of kids. Thanks for participating.

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Comments on “Some Discussion Around Children And Tablet Computing”

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Prashanth (profile) says:

It’s sort of like how many people assume that some food or health supplement being “natural” automatically means it’s better, no matter what. [sarcasm]Poison ivy? I mean, that’s natural too, right? So that can’t be bad at all, right?[/sarcasm] Plus, getting back to the discussion on video games, with all the talk about how supposedly violent video games are somehow the cause of many-a-murderous-rampage just because serial killers happened to buy them, does anyone know about the fact that Ronald Reagan’s would-be killer was carrying a copy of The Catcher in the Rye with him when he fired those bullets and that he said that he based many of his “ideals” on Holden’s angst? Is anyone seriously going to call for the banning of books? (To be fair, that particular book has been frequently challenged and censored in schools and communities across the country.)

Ian Channing (profile) says:

Re: Re:

From comment 1: “Plus, getting back to the discussion on video games, with all the talk about how supposedly violent video games “… quite true there’s an excellent visualization of this on the information is beautiful site. It compares the number of deaths to the number of news paper stories about it. Try comparing deadly video games (deaths 0) to deadly killer bees (deaths 11,000).

Anonymous Coward says:

My desire to play the Original Adventure on my fathers PC clone is what got me started with computers. I was not allowed to use the computer unsupervised but I would use the time between when school got out and when dad got home to play. Let me tell you, it took me a few days just to figure out how to boot it and get the game running. I’ll never forgot starring at an error ‘bad command or filename’ before I figured out how to get the game running – could not just google for the answer back then. The Original Adventure got me started with computers and I never stopped. Let your kids use the computer/tablet/whatever, it just needs to be engaging and slightly challenging.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In addition to physical exercise, it’s important that kids get unstructured free time. This is when their minds do a lot of developing, figuring out what is possible, learning cause and effect, about their world around them, creativity, etc. No matter how sandbox-y a game might be, I think it’s still too structured to count as unstructured free time. That doesn’t mean I don’t let my kids play video games (because I do), I just make sure they get plenty of the unstructured play time as well.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think it’s important engage children with technological use because the future will only be more technologically driven than the past or present. At the same time, you also need balance and too much of anything is bad. They should also engage in playing sports outside with their friends, exercise, studying for school, etc…

TamTroll says:

Mike, so you’re in favor of children sitting around with their tablets all day and doing nothing else? How can they ever survive?

(sorry, might as well get it out of the way in advanced before some real troll brings it up. Maybe someone else can also get a response out of the way too so that we can be one step ahead of them and hopefully get past this discussion before they can formulate the necessary words to even start it).

Nick Coghlan (profile) says:

What's up with the final paragraph?

We? First story? Second story? Conversational unit? The website?

I read this in the RSS feed and clicked through to the main TD site assuming the referents for these terms would become clear, but they still don’t appear to be referring to anything.

Did you mean for that paragraph to be a link back to a site SAYMedia are running on behalf of ASUS and MS that has those features?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: What's up with the final paragraph?

I read this in the RSS feed and clicked through to the main TD site assuming the referents for these terms would become clear, but they still don’t appear to be referring to anything.

Really? Between the first and second post on, there’s an ad unit that asks you to input your own feelings on children and tablet computers. I see it.

Did you mean for that paragraph to be a link back to a site SAYMedia are running on behalf of ASUS and MS that has those features

Nope. It’s right here on Techdirt.

Nick Coghlan (profile) says:

Re: Re: What's up with the final paragraph?

’twas indeed caught by the ad blocker. (I did intend to try reloading the front page with that turned off before posting my question, but I apparently got distracted and forgot I hadn’t tried it)

While I do sometimes whitelist sites I visit regularly, I generally don’t do that for sites that I support directly.

Nick Coghlan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: What's up with the final paragraph?

Considering it further, I think “hidden by adblockers” is itself an interesting aspect of these ideas to explore. (Ars Technica did their own experiment a while back with making all of their article content deliberately trigger adblockers)

An *excellent* technique I’ve seen a few sites start using is an “adblocker aware” site layout. It’s a fairly simple concept – the sites just use CSS to display a placeholder in the locations where the ads will go once they load. If an adblocker prevents the ads from loading, then the placeholders remain visible.

So, instead of the ad element disappearing completely, the user instead sees a message from the site owners. Wowhead, for example, display the text: “Wowhead is supported primarily by advertisements. Please whitelist us so we can continue to build new features. You’ll thank us later. :)”

At it’s best (i.e. when applied to all of the ad elements), this approach also gives the user of the adblock program a clear indication at to how whitelisting the site is going to affect the layout.

Anonymous Coward says:

Kids need social play and they need constructive play. As some have said above, moderation in all things.

My grandson (3 yrs) is obsessed with cars (that I am obsessed with also) and we play with them, musical instruments, hats, blocks, sporty stuff, pots and pans, whatever, but I can’t wait for the weather to change over so we can get outside and explore and build and find and run around.

He’s interested in computers (they have buttons to push!), and I will support his interest. He’s going to grow up with them, will need to know them, and, since my nieces are off to college, I’m depending on him to help me figure mine out in the future, heh.

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Screen vs. Board?

I see this frequently. I homeschool my children, and they complete alot of modules on their netbooks. In addition to that, my children take kung-fu and ballet (and soon to be gymnastics), ride bikes, do hands-on experiments proving almost every science lesson, go to museums and exhibits at least twice a month, and have a shit-ton of engineering toys.

Despite the wonderful variety in my kiddos educations, people get really hung up on the ‘netbook’ part. The silliest part is that if you replaced the word ‘netbook’ with ‘chalkboard, ‘whiteboard’, or ‘projector screen’ (the things that public-school children look at all day), people wouldn’t blink an eye.

People are silly. 😛

Anonymous Coward says:

I think a tablet as a learning tool have so many wonderfull possibilities.

Complex math can be explained with games, engineering can be thought with games(i.e. build your own airplane, choosing the materials and try to see if it flies).

Once a kid asked me what the name of a star was, I’m no astronomer but I could give him the right answer and show him something wonderful using Stelarium Night Sky Viewer. RTS(Real Time Strategy) games(i.e. Glest can be used to teach history or economy and the balances you need to achieve between resources gathering and security, more the open source one can be used by parents and schools, you can create your own modes about ancient Egypticians and the hurdles they had and teach history, one can also use all those marvelous music games to teach children how to sing and play and using that same software you can teach them how to sing in other languages.

They can learn anything from music to rocket science having fun.

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

Possibly relevant

I’m racking my brain trying to remember where I read this so I can link to it (I may be back later), but the post’s point dealt with the assumption that certain forms of “entertainment” are always considered lower than others.

In this case, because it’s a computer on which games are available but not an actual, you know, desktop or something, it’s regarded as being no better than an entertainment console. The author’s point of the piece I’m attempting to quote is that people consider surfing the web in a non-participatory fashion to be automatically “lower” than crafting your own site or blog or whatever.

His feeling was that this stems from the feeling that simply “seeing” something is brain-killing. But as he pointed out, how is watching television automatically a waste of time while reading a book is considered to be one of the better things you can do with your time? It’s not as if every book a person reads is full of learning experiences. Is reading a Cussler or Ludlum novel automatically a better use of time than watching a primetime sitcom or drama? Just because it’s the written word shouldn’t automatically grant it a higher status.

The same goes for devices like these. It’s looked down on simply because a majority of those who have set themselves up as arbiters of intelligence have decided it’s a “toy.”

jsl4980 (profile) says:

Tablets and netbooks will be great

I’m a parent of a child who is much too young for a tablet or netbook (at least until they’re drool proof wink wink ASUS). But I can see these devices being incredibly useful. Put a few cartoons or Netflix on the device plus a few games and our packing for a trip will be a lot lighter than when I was a kid. Packing a single netbook or tablet and not having to pack a Gameboy and multiple board games and movies will be a lot easier. Technology is great’ it makes the same old activities more efficient.

Anonymous Coward says:

Moderation of use is key, along with the parent being very careful to watch what the child does with a web connected device. We are often no more than a couple of clicks away from material that is not really good for children (like techdirt… I jest!).

If the tablet becomes the babysitting device of choice, you have sinificantly limited your child’s growth. They don’t just need to learn to push buttons and move icons around, they need to learn to run, the hit a baseball, to play games with other kids, to explore life right down to the ants in the crack in the sidewalk and the tadpoles in the frog pond on the edge of the woods.

It’s nice that the kids understands the device. It would be better if it wasn’t his only companion.

Anonymous Coward says:


NO WAY, i want the kid to have 80 tablets and have one wired to his face.
gee….and do not even try that think of the children crap, anyhting you dream up that takes my civil rights away in there name they will find a way around it while i lose my civil rights so fuck off. While i’m on said subject just what kind of asshole parent are you? Do you leave your kid with a hammer to play with too? Most parents will be with the kid when they use it and should.


Mary R (profile) says:

An Amazing Opportunity

There is something missing from all the discussion here. Allow me to explain:

I am a parent of four. My oldest daughter is 26 and is a professional 3D environment artist in the video game industry. The 18 year old is an aspiring writer, is hard at work on her first novel. My 10 year old son designed a board game (in classic civilization development style) for a school project. It’s good enough I may copyright it.

I mention all of this because my kids all have something in common. They all grew up around computers, games, and books. The technology has changed over time, so the medium requires them to adapt. But they all are extremely comfortable around technology. I believe this gives them an edge. I hasten to add that this access to technology includes a Wii, PS3… you know, devices that are notorious for mindless entertainment and almost no educational value whatsoever.

None of them is overweight, most likely due to a balance in our lifestyle between exercise (hiking/biking), healthy eating and the aforementioned techie stuff.

This brings me to the 5 year old. He is completely bored with his Leapster Explorer. It engages him for about an hour and then he’s had enough. When I asked him why he doesn’t like it… direct quote: “Mommy, I can’t drag with my finger. I need an iPod.” I observed him playing with a few applications on our iPad recently. His adeptness with this interface puts me to shame.

But as a mom, I am looking for a device for him that is designed with a small boy in mind (you know the type, throwing/banging/jumping). So it needs to be able to withstand a 1 meter fall without the screen cracking. It should have rubbery outer edges, soft and rounded… perhaps even waterproof. It needs to have that “kid’s toy” pricetag. (Something less than $80). Buying applications for it had better not break the bank either. But it also needs to have some of the capability and functionality of its adult counterparts.

I am a mom and a computer technology educator in K-12 settings. It is vital that our children grow up literate and adaptable to the mediums in which communication takes place. VTech is “in the neighborhood” with its InnoPad Tablet coming out this fall. Leapster may be on the right track with its LeapPad Explorer Tablet (but only if kids can drag items and views). Only time will tell what manufacturers of adult versions will bring.

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