Interview - Dr Bex Lewis

Monday, February 24, 2014

Dr Bex Lewis, Research fellow in social media and online learning at the University of Durham and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age.

What's the best way to introduce pre-school children to 'digital'?

Young children are more likely to interact with a tablet than a keyboard because they can see something happening right under their finger and understand what's going on better. There's a very responsive game called 'Talking Tom' where you can stroke a cat's tummy and it purrs. Nurseries could invite parents to discuss what sites children could have access to.

How can childcarers ensure children's safety online?

Filters are very good for young children. People often think of blacklisting (blocking) sites, but whitelisting - where children can only access sites that you have approved - is actually better. This is easy to set up using filtering software, such as Cyber Patrol or Net Nanny.

With young children you should ideally be with them, checking what they're watching, or at least within earshot so that you can hear what they're engaging with.

What would you say to people who believe young children should not be exposed to digital media?

It's a part of everyday life that you can't ignore. And it needs to be a healthy part of children's upbringing.

I've written the book from the perspective of 'don't be scared of it'. It's usually parents who don't use new technology who are lacking the most confidence.

It's a bit like the debate about alcohol. In French culture, children are introduced to alcohol in a positive way at a young age, gently and slowly. The American education and technology writer Mark Prensky suggests not limiting children's screen time, and treating Lego, books and the Wii the same, as this removes the idea of technology as 'special'.

Many parents are worried about screen addiction, but I grew up without a TV and always had my head in a book: no-one told me I was anti-social. People might think children are anti-social when they're online, but they could be talking to their friends.

What are the benefits for young children of using tablets and the internet?

It means that as they get older, they won't view the digital world as scary.

Vocabulary apps have been shown to help children, and the digital environment is one in which autistic children can flourish. Our culture emphasises educational value, but let's not forget the positive power of play and the many creative ways that children can use new technology.

Raising Children in a Digital Age, £8.99, is available from Lion Books.

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