Black children on iPad Digital Literacy

It’s back to school time in our house so we are clearing out the summer-learning cobwebs and trying to get back into our school-time routine. At work, it means a lot of parents coming in to get that overdue school health form completed. Lately, a few things about those visits are different. When I come into the exam room, kids and parents alike are staring at a screen—either a cell phone or a tablet. The kids are taking advantage of the free WIFI in the clinic to check Instagram or Facebook and the parents are busy texting or sending email. I could be annoyed, but I’m not. As a doc who actually embraces the good things about technology and social media, I jump at the chance to do a “digital media check-up.” It was something that just came naturally during patient visits, but I have to give credit to my pediatrician friend, Dr. Natasha Burgert (@DoctorNatasha), for making it a formal part of my routine.

What’s a “digital media check-up?” With the parent’s and child’s permission, I review what’s on the child’s phone or tablet. I discuss things of concern and talk with parents about ways to monitor their child’s activities. I also talk about privacy settings and how parents can better protect their children. It doesn’t take long and my goal is to raise awareness. It is up to the parents to do the rest.

I also take the opportunity to share applications that I think will be useful. During this back-to-school time, the application I’ve been sharing most frequently is for Khan Academy , a free online resource that provides educational video tutorials and assessments on an extensive number of topics from the most basic to college level courses. I use it with my kids all the time. See, I rarely help my kids with their homework. Why? Because the way I teach and the way they learn doesn’t necessarily mix well. In clinic, we pull up the website or the application and I share with kids how they can look up just about any subject and review it with practice problems to confirm understanding. The first time I shared with a patient that he could get help with his advanced math and I saw the light in his eyes and the relief in his mom’s eyes, I knew I was on to something.

My parents were and are amazingly supportive of me, but at some point in my academic career, they just couldn’t help me with my school work and we couldn’t afford a tutor. I was on my own to figure it out, but today there are resources that can open doors of learning way beyond what we ever imagined. We just have to take advantage of them.

A student at a private school in Washington, D.C., with access to all the resources in the world available to her, wrote about her experience taking a year of courses online. See her thoughts here and check out some of the tools she used.

As a parent, I’m always looking for ways to give my kids a leg up on their future. As a pediatrician, I want to do the same for my patients. It’s up to them what they do with it.

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Dr. Ivor Horn

Ivor Horn is a mom, practicing pediatrician and researcher with several publications in medical journals. She has appeared on the Today show and Good Morning America Health discussing topics such as childhood obesity, puberty and breastfeeding. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their two children.

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