Parenting a Tech-Savvy Toddler

by Angela and Andrew McGillivray

As we’re writing this, we’re sitting in our backyard with a baby monitor next to us. It’s an “iLife Smart” video monitor which “let[s] you watch and talk to your toddler in real-time with long-range up to 900ft,” according to its Amazon description. This device allows us to remain attentive to the needs of our two-and-a-half-year-old son, Oliver, while simultaneously enjoying the summer weather in the garden and getting some work done outside during evenings. 

New media weaves its way in and out of our daily lives, and it can be both a help and a hindrance. In the morning, we might have to tell Oliver “no” when he asks to watch television before we leave for daycare—and then we pop his Mickey Mouse or PAW Patrol waffle in the toaster for breakfast (before daycare eats his favourite cartoon characters rather than watching them on the screen). While working from home, we hear the “ding” of Angela’s phone notifications randomly throughout the day, letting us know that his daycare teachers have uploaded an image or a note to the “HiMama” app she’s downloaded. We often let Oliver use the “iPad mini” while we make dinner, and he might end up playing one of his educational games, scrolling through photos and videos of himself, or watching a Netflix or Disney+ show. After dinner we may initiate a video call because Oliver spots one of our phones and asks to “FaceTime grandma and grandpa.” 

Growing up digitally is Oliver’s reality. Instead of fretting over the amount of screen time he is exposed to and worrying about the dangers of technology on his young brain, we are trying to accept this reality and be aware of how it will shape his experiences and his identity. We’ll concentrate on teaching him media literacy, critical thinking skills, moderation, and how to be a good digital citizen—until the tables turn and his knowledge surpasses our own.

Andrew and Angela McGillivray are parents to a young son, Oliver. Andrew is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Rhetoric & Communications at the University of Winnipeg. Angela completed an MA in Cultural Studies at the University of Winnipeg, where she now works as a Department Assistant for Women’s and Gender Studies, Classics, Philosophy, and Disability Studies. In their P/I/K chapter, “Parents, Technicians, Curators: Shrinking Space and Time in Early Parenthood,” they evaluate the effects of space- and time-binding technologies on their young son’s development, identity, and experience of the world, as well as these technologies’ effects on themselves as parents.

7 replies on “Parenting a Tech-Savvy Toddler”

I don’t have any kids (yet) but I tutor a couple of elementary school children, and occasionally teach toddlers to 10 year olds at my church. I often hear people complaining about how awful it is that children have so much digital exposure. Which to some extent is a legitimate concern but isn’t it better to find ways to live with it that to fight a losing battle? I appreciate that in your article you outline a healthier approach to embracing the reality that children of this generation are born into.

Thank you, Valerie! We definitely agree that limiting screen time is a legitimate concern, as we’ve now experienced a couple of tech-related meltdowns. On occasion, Oli will declare “I need my iPad!” or “I need to watch TV!” (to which we reply that he doesn’t need it, he wants it, and we suggest reading a book, playing, or going outside instead). We do think it’s all about balance, at least for our family. Digital media is so much a part of all of our lives in 2020, the best thing we feel that we can do is teach responsible and moderate use.

Parenting has sure changed since you were that age! You have a great handle on the technological aspect of Oli’s life. You will teach him well! And he still loves books!

Our childhoods were certainly much different than Oli’s! We can’t imagine navigating through an iPad at his age. But he is already learning to find a good balance on his own between technology and other forms of media, primarily his books! We’ve started taking him to our local book store to choose his own paperbacks, and he even picked a book from the toy box last time we were at the dentist!

I really like how, instead of shunning technology, you decide to embrace it and educate yourselves about how it may shape your son’s experiences and identity. I have three nephews and I’m sometimes critical of how much time they spend using technology, but when I think back to my own childhood, I spend a lot of time on the computer, and I learned a lot of spelling, math, and geography skills through computer games. Your article reminded me that children need to use modern technology in order to keep up with their peers, so it is important for parents to try to prepare for the possible consequences of modern technology instead of shutting it out.

That’s a great point about the educational value of computer games, and one that we certainly try to consider when we choose apps to download for Oliver to play with. The prevalence of technology in our daily lives has greatly increased since Andrew and I were children, and probably has since you were younger as well, and the digital landscape is now changing so quickly that it’s sometimes difficult to keep up. As things continue to evolve, we agree with you that it’s important to try to stay well-informed, not just about the consequences but also the benefits of modern technology.

I have always wondered about the ‘why’ behind strict no-screen policies for kids. While I don’t have children, I imagine an iPad being an extremely useful parenting tool. Today’s world is so completely digitized, and it is hardly possible to avoid screens, so why not work with it instead? Kids will grow up and eventually use technology, and it is so great that Oliver will know responsible technology use from the start!

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