The Language Your Kids Are Learning Without You

Family Matters on 11.04.11
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Photo: Laura St. John

The ability to pick up languages is what separates us humans from other living organisms. Well, there's a new language that kids are picking up today -- even without our help. 

It's not English, Spanish, or Chinese.  Here's a hint: 010111000011110001111.

The answer is digital.

Our babies and toddlers are immersed in a world full of technology. Even before my 1-year-old can speak English, he absorbs every move I make as I interact with my smartphone more often than I have to change his dirty diapers. (And seriously, he poops a lot.)

It's the New Foreign Language

Research has proven that the best way to learn a foreign language is to go to that country and get immersed in the culture of that world. Sounds to me like a great reason to visit Italy. Since kids today are born into a digital world, it's no wonder why all the youngest members around the globe can easily speak the language of tech.

On the flipside, learning to speak digital is truly foreign to most adults. We are afraid we will delete something or do something wrong. Our birthdays fall way before "Google it" and "Facebook me" became actual verbs used in a sentence.

This phenomenon is not just going on here. The technology revolution is unfolding around us on a global level. It's going on in China, India, and all over. The Internet has virtually taken down borders between countries, and our kids will be competing with each other in the global market.

Unlike other foreign languages that may come and go, the digital language is not just a fad. Even if you turn off screen time, this one is not going away. 

Seek Age-Appropriate, Interactive Content

Children do not, and will not, learn from their massive amounts of screen time unless we step in to help them use it as a beneficial tool, not just a toy. To help foster the positive development of this new language, make sure you step in and help your child select age-appropriate and interactive content.

It seems like selecting age-appropriate content is obvious, but everywhere I go, I see kids accessing inappropriate content for their age. You wouldn't buy your first grader a sixth grade-level book to read, so why do we let our first graders go on websites, watch TV shows, or play video games that are not appropriate for their age?

Also look out for interactivity. Many harmful effects of tech happen when kids are just sitting there, dormant and passive. When the content interacts with your child in a fun and active way, that's where a lot of the benefits of healthy technology use comes into play.

Don't be clueless. Just because your child may be savvier than you when it comes to technology, don't give them full reign of choice when accessing content. I guarantee the more you get involved, the more you'll realize that it's a lot easier than teaching your child Chinese.

Laura St. John is Co-Creator of Discovery Kids Puterbugs, a program that teaches young children healthy ways to respect technology as a tool, not just a toy.

Join the discussion! I think most kids today start speaking digital between 2-3 years old. Do you agree? At what age did your child show an interest in technology -- and start amazing you?

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