Have you ever gotten frustrated trying to do something new on your smartphone? Learning a new program for work? Connecting a new digital device to your HD TV? Even when we aren’t enjoying the games, shows, and content on our digital devices we still practice many skills when we learn new ways to use these tools.
Digital media and technologies provide many opportunities for improving executive functions, particularly flexibility, and getting kids involved at an early age can teach them valuable lessons. From learning the ins and outs of devices and equipment to reading digital content, technology can bolster problem solving skills and present us with different points of view. Here’s how learning to use technology can improve flexibility skills in children.
Play games. Both video games and board games require cognitive flexibility. Games like Risk and Blokus involve strategies that require players to accept and react reasonably to changes on the board and the actions of opponents. Similarly, many single-player video games like Angry Birds present players with near-constant change — from the scenery and physics to the skills required to progress from one level to the other. Encourage a child to recognize the need for change in strategy in these games and discuss how they can apply this sort of flexibility to daily life.
Get stuck. Inflexibility can prevent one from finding a solution to a particular problem. Demonstrate the way inflexible behavior results in avoidable frustration by asking your child to help you with your computer or handheld device the next time you can’t figure something out. Repeat the incorrect activity and then blame the machine. Most children are more knowledgeable about computers and other devices than their parents and should be able to demonstrate several ways to fix the problem. Opportunities like this give you a chance to talk about the need for new approaches and solutions at times when stubborn determination is not working.
Watch and learn. Improve flexibility skills in your child by using movies, television shows, and new media in examples of times when it’s necessary to cope with change. Watch an original movie and its remake and then discuss their differences. You will often find that the story and maybe even some of the characters have changed, essentially creating two or more realities. Consider how different actors portrayed their roles, different times and cultural settings in which the movies were produced, and some of the technological differences. Movies like The Nutty Professor, The Bad News Bears, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory / Willy Wonka, 101 Dalmatians, Oceans 11, King Kong, and Planet of the Apes are original films and remakes that demonstrate this kind of contrast.
Be the change. You may be sick of One Direction or another of your child’s pop music obsessions, but you can model flexibility and demonstrate how to expand one’s interests by willingly listening to your child’s music. The ideal place to do this is in the car. Have them share the music they like and why they like it, and then talk about your musical preferences. Find music that neither of you normally listen to and discuss things you do and don’t like about it. Who knows, you both may come away with a new favorite band.
Read more about this important thinking skill, what it means for academic success, and find games and apps that help improve flexibility skills.
Featured image: Flickr user Brad Flickinger