Biking, Swimming? Nah. Survey Says Kids Master Tech First

Survey says kids learn tech skills before life skills.

Jan. 20, 2010— -- So much for the simple things in life.

Kids these days may know their way around the family computer or how to use their parents' cell phones, but a new survey says they're more likely to master those high-tech tasks than basic life skills like riding a bike or tying their shoelaces.

According to a survey of 2,200 mothers commissioned by software maker AVG Technologies, 14 percent of kids aged 4 to 5 could tie their shoes -- compared to 21 percent who knew how to use a smartphone or iPad application.

Among kids aged 2 to 5, 52 percent knew how to ride a bike, while 58 percent could play a computer game and 69 percent could operate a computer mouse. Twenty percent knew how to swim, but 25 percent could open a Web browser.

"Children's behavior has changed, and that's mainly because the way we use the technology is so different. It changes everything," said J.R. Smith, AVG's CEO.

Study Raises Questions About How Parents Prioritize the Skills They Teach

He said the company commissioned the survey as part of its yearlong series, "Digital Diaries," to show how differently children are interacting with technology and how parents need to educate their kids about the online world earlier than they might have thought.

An earlier AVG survey found that 92 percent of two-year-olds had some kind of digital identity -- like e-mail addresses or Facebook profiles created by their Web-happy parents.

But though the company conducted this latest study to raise awareness about kids' online safety, its findings also raise interesting questions about what constitutes a life skill in our wired world and how we prioritize the things we teach our kids.

"There's a very legitimate concern that the next generation will be so wired and so hooked up that we will forget some of the basic life skills," said Dr. Vic Strasburger, a member of the American Academy of Pediatric's (AAP) council on communication and media and a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. "I think parents need to be increasingly vigilant because there are so many media and so many different avenues for accessing media."

Kids Learn Smartphones Before Shoelaces

The AAP encourages parents to limit screen time (be it TV, computer or smartphone) to two hours a day, but he said it's easy for parents to park their kids in front of the computer or TV set for much longer than what experts say is healthy.

Not only does the research say kids should engage in creative active play over passive viewing for developmental reasons, he said, too much screen time is one of the many reasons the country is facing an epidemic of childhood and adolescent obesity.

But while some parents agree that limiting screen time is important for their children's growth, they also say that embracing technology is part of being successful in today's world.

"The implication is that parents are ignoring basic skills in favor of letting kids play games," said Liz Gumbinner, publisher and editor-in-chief of Cool Mom Tech and Cool Mom Picks. But, "I don't think it's an either or. And, increasingly, computer skills are essential for navigating the world we live in."

Leticia Barr, a former classroom teacher and the blogger behind Tech Savvy Mama, said that while the tech-related tasks and life skills listed in the survey may not exist on the same developmental plane for kids, the survey's findings still highlight that parents should be aware of what their kids are doing online and balance it with activities offline.

Several factors affect a child's ability to accomplish a developmental task like riding a bike or writing their name, she said, and "as a parent, it has to do with the kinds of balance you provide and the kinds of exposure [you provide]."

Parents also say the study's findings speak to how much time adults spend with their technology and how much their kids are able to absorb.

Monica Vila, founder and chief technology mom of the parenting website The Online Mom, said she believes that children need to be well-versed in the ways of technology to compete, but added that children and adults need to learn when to step away from it, too.

Adults Need to Lead by Example, Back Away From Technology When Necessary

Learning how to operate high-tech machines is important, she said, but, especially considering that drowning is a top killer of kids in the U.S., learning how to swim and other basic skills can't be ignored.

While the desire to be connected can become an obsession, she said, adults need to be more thoughtful about how they use technology for their own sake and for their kids'.

"I think there's an evolution that parents have to come through. You have to learn to put it down," she said. "We have to be the people we want our kids to become. ... [we] have to learn to disconnect."