Teaching Over Technology – How to Talk to Your Digitally-Distracted Student

Word Association is a fun game. Player #1 says a word – banana, for example – and Player #2 says the very first word that comes to mind – split – and so on. If I were to start this game with any given parent or teacher, it would very likely go something like this:

Me: Black…
Parent/Teacher:…Berry!
Me: Face…
P/T:…Book!

And so on. Years ago, the word “black” would most likely have triggered words like “white” and “board,” but today the more likely association is “berry,” referring to one of the leading brands of do-it-all devices making their way into the hands of people all over the world. Here in the United States, some of those people are school-aged children and teenagers, members of a generation born well into the computer age. Consequently, both teachers and parents are finding it increasingly difficult to fight – let alone win – the battle for kids’ attention against an opponent that is constantly growing, improving, and becoming easier to access: technology. As students gain better knowledge of – and easier access to – devices such as MP3 players and smart phones, they focus more on their digital activity than on their schoolwork, whether at home or in the classroom.

Often referenced since its publication earlier this year, a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that “heavy media use [among youths aged 8 to 18 years] is associated with several negatives, including behavior problems and lower grades…confirm[ing] the fears of many parents whose children are constantly tethered to media devices.”

Unfortunately, the prevalence of these devices in our society is growing by the day, and the younger generation is gaining the upper hand as they enter into adulthood, thanks to a familiarity with modern technology gained far earlier in life than is the case for their predecessors. Nonetheless, many (if not most) adults use some type of media device on a regular basis, and of these adults, it’s the parents of very young children who seem to be the cause for concern – at least for child development experts.

Fear not, parents and teachers! While technology is inevitably reaching more and more children each day, your ability to help these children, these students, is as strong as ever. In fact, there is no need to think of your effort as a fight, and no need to think of technology as an opponent. Remember, you have the advantage of knowing how society was able to function without smart phones, MP3 players, and laptops, as well as how society is able to function with them. This frame of reference gives you the ability to teach your kids what you already know: As much as society grows and changes in order to better itself and preserve its existence, there are certain things that remain the same over time, like the foundations of a well-rounded education.

Consider using educational games and learning aids to help you get started – work on them with your kids at home, or your students in school. Did you know that you can use the newspaper to teach reading skills? Brush up on current events while spending valuable and productive time with your child. It’s simple, effective, and beneficial for everyone. Why stop there? By teaching children to think critically about the commercials they see on television, along with other types of advertising, you’ll help them develop the media literacy that will, in turn, help them develop into better-functioning adults.

Finally, remember that in order to reach students on this level, you must lead by example. More often than not, “do as I say, not as I do” proves to be an ineffective approach to both teaching and parenting, which in this case means one thing: Put down the BlackBerry!