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Through no fault of their own, today’s children are now in a position where they do not have to think nearly as much as the children of generations that have come before them. It’s a sign of progress, but if we aren’t careful it could have a harmful impact on the future of our adolescences. New technology like tablets and smartphones makes information so instantaneous that a new fact or idea can be delivered to a child with almost no effort, and regurgitated before they have even had time to think about it or question it. Technology is, in many ways, a good thing, but it also comes with new responsibilities. While kids of today probably do need to know how to navigate smart devices, it is up to us to make sure that they are also taught how to think about things and not just regurgitate.
Today we will be taking a closer look at this potential problem, and we will think about what can be done about it.
You may be pleased to hear that as a whole we have actually made a lot of progress in terms of teaching children to not just regurgitate information, but to actually think about it. How so? Well, the education system used to be such that the emphasis was on memorization more than it was contemplation. Students were encouraged to memorize facts, names, dates, and numbers, but little time was spent teaching students how to contextualize this information and use it productively. We are making progress in this regard. For example, even the controversial movement towards Common Core (an educational overhaul that took effect in 2009) is at least in part designed to train children to actually think about and be able to explain the conclusions that they make in a classroom setting. This is not to say that Common Core is perfect, but merely that it does at least try to make important and timely provisions for a new generation of students that certainly need them.
This is proactive to say the least, especially when you consider the fact that kids spend most of their waking hours at school throughout the week, but it isn’t enough to change the way that they think if in fact that is all that is being done about it. Constant access to technology at home could potentially be a threat to the way that children ultimately think, even if they are getting a good education at school. Let’s look at some stats, shall we? To start, about forty percent of kids aged thirteen and up have access to a smartphone. That’s pretty staggering, right? But wait. Not only do forty percent of kids aged thirteen and up have access to a smartphone, but about 90% of kids in that same age group have at least occasional access to a phone or tablet with internet connectivity. That 91% of kids with access to mobile internet spends around two hours a day on their devices. Granted, some of that time might or might not be for school work, but nevertheless, we are talking about 120 minutes of unfiltered access to information. The point of these statistics is not to demonize access to technology, but it is to point out how easy it is for kids to let their phones do their thinking for them. There is little reason to think about the answer to a question when you can learn almost anything in a matter of seconds. Of course, there is also the fact that information found on the internet is not always known for its accuracy. When kids have constant access to questionable information, it becomes all the more important that they are able to make their own conclusions based on a logical, effective thought process.
The good news is that there are plenty of things that you can do to help your kids think more. One of the simplest steps that you can take is to limit their access to the internet once they get home from school. Of course, using tablets or computers to complete assignments is one thing, but when it comes to recreational time, you may find it in your family’s best interest to promote active discussions. This could be a structured effort, in which you get them to explain something to you, such as a bit of information that they learned at school, or it could be a more casual affair, like asking them plenty of questions when they tell you about their day so that they have to think more actively about their experiences. You might also find it beneficial to allow your kids to take a more active role in resolving their own problems. It is the natural instinct of parents to help their kids in every way possible, and while this is certainly a positive reflex, if over practiced it does deprive them of opportunities to think proactively.
Naturally, you will, of course, still be able to assist them for larger matters, but for smaller issues, such as a flat tire on their bike, they will definitely benefit from an opportunity to actively engage with a problem, and think up a solution to it. The nice thing about these efforts is that not only do they help your kids work on actively thinking, but they are also great ways to bond with your children. The steps that you can take towards helping your kids think proactively aren’t very difficult, or even very complicated, but small efforts can nevertheless go a long way towards improving your children’s ability to think.
For parents or educators, this might all sound scary or overwhelming, and maybe that is how it should feel. Taking the responsibility of raising and educating children in an age of unlimited information can only be a good thing. Just try not to get frustrated or overwhelmed. The process of teaching children to not just regurgitate their information, but also think about it, may be slow and sometimes challenging, but it will also be very rewarding, and when you have completed your job you will have succeeded in raising an intelligent, well adjusted young adult.
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