It was a rare but dramatic tantrum-y moment in my home last week. My kindergartner son was having a meltdown because we were going out to a fancy dinner and I was making him wear a (gasp!) button-down shirt (that's right), corduroy pants (mean! mommy!), and nice-ish shoes (I know, I know). He stood at the door of the bathroom, where I was putting on makeup, flung a boot toward me and sob-yelled, "YOU HATE ME! PLUS, YOU KNOW I CAN'T TIE SHOES ALONE!"
Hate is a strong word. What I do dislike very much is a child in a Karate Kid t-shirt and track pants at an upscale Italian restaurant. What I enjoy is that my boy can, with a flick of the Velcro strap, get his own shoes on every morning (or at least every time that I don't force him to wear stifling dress boots) in seven to thirteen minutes flat (hey, six is a meandering age).
I also enjoy that he can read, count money, decipher sarcasm, and recite pretty much every line of dialogue from any Star Wars movie. Oh yeah, and kick stick-figure booty at Hangman, get to the fifth level of the labyrinth game, turn my voice into Darth Vader, and make some monkey do gymnastics through the rain forest -- all on my phone. What he can't do, however, is tie shoes. Yet.
It seems that he is not alone. Recent research by the internet security company AVG revealed that more kids aged 2 to 5 can navigate a smart phone application than can tie their shoes. Only 9% of preschool-aged children have mastered the two-bunny-ears-looped-together move, while 19% of them are rocking Angry Birds (or similar).
In a survey of 2,200 mothers with Internet access from the U.S., Canada, U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, AVG found that small children are very adept at ever-changing technology. While this might stir up a lot of controversy about how parents are skimping on teaching basic skills to their tech-nerdified toddlers, let's put it into perspective.
Shoe-tying is a developmental milestone that usually occurs between 4 and 6 years of age, depending on the child, how determined you are to teach the child, and how many pairs of slip-on shoes you've purchased on sale. My boy, however melodramatic, is not behind because he can't tie those damn boots and I'm quite sure your tween will have it down before prom (or maybe college, either is good).
Here are few other survey findings and whether it means you are totally failing in teaching your child life skills:
More small children can play a computer game than ride a bike. While 58% of kids aged 2 to 5 can play a basic computer game, about 10% fewer can ride a bike. The research cites that 44% of 2 and 3-year olds have computer games down but only 43% are bike riders. First, we need to know if this includes training wheels. Training wheels make a big difference. Second, we need to know if the "basic computer games" include Tetris and solitaire. Because if your toddler is killing at those, I vote to let them keep training wheels for a few more years. Finally, one percent? Really? Let's get real -- at least ten percent of these moms know very well their kids haven't even touched that dusty bike Santa brought two Christmases ago. Seriously, Mayo Clinic advises that kids may (that's right, MAY) learn to ride a bike by the age of five (yes, FIVE).
More small children can open a web browser (25 percent) than swim unaided (20 percent). The research points out that 25% of kids can get a browser going while 20% can swim without floaties or panicked parents grabbing at the waistband of their trunks. The CDC says swimming is a milestone many kids achieve between the ages of 3 and 5. They also advise that kids should not swim unsupervised, so it is probably best to have them open Firefox, scan your Outlook calendar, and then send you an email if they want to go out to the pool.European kids are kicking our children's tiny tushes when it comes to tech abilities. Children aged 2 to 5 in Europe are more likely to know how to make a cell phone call (44% of Italians vs. 25% of kids here), play a computer game (70% of U.K. kids vs. 61% of our own), and operate a mouse (78% of French children vs. 67% of Americans). Do you think that's because they have several more weeks of vacation and longer midday breaks than our little ones? Or just that it's so much more fun to speak Italian into a mobile? Regardless, our kids are not that far behind the European smarties. And since none of our children's shoes are tied, it's really anyone's race at this point. If you're still concerned, know that most kids who can recite their address and phone number at age five are on track. Since most wee ones are adept at pushing buttons by the time they are four minutes old, maybe just work on getting them to recognize which photo icon or label to press repeatedly really impress your neighbors who just moved here from Paris.
I do believe it's critical and fascinating to track how technology is changing what we teach children, how quickly they can master gadgets, and how our families work. But I think it's even more critical and fascinating to discern which of this research is relevant and which is all hype -- these percentages are so close, even a qualitative-leaning grad student would shudder to read them.
I'm all for holding off on teaching my child to search for better mac 'n cheese recipes in favor of helping him read one of those old-fashioned cookbooks with real pages, but I also know that he needs to be adept at using my iPhone for emergencies, calling his dad every night, and being a citizen of this ever-teched culture.
I'm not going to worry that he's one of those poor kids who can't yet ride a two-wheeler solo, swim unassisted, or tie his shoes alone. After all, if he's still struggling with these milestones in a few months, I'm sure there's an excellent app to teach him how to do it all.