GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - With a finger touch to an iPad, iPhone, Droid, laptop, or even a Kindle Fire, doors open to communication between friends and colleagues, games, time-wasting computer applications, educational tools and an unparalleled wealth of knowledge.
This may still seem strange and extraordinary to many adults born of an analog era, yet to kids (especially those ages 10 and under) these types of new digital technologies seem commonplace, normal and simply second nature.
"Anybody born before 1985 is an immigrant into the technology age," Holy Family Catholic School Principal Jake Aubert said. "To these children today, it's not foreign to them. It's how they learn."
Holy Family is a private school in the valley, teaching kindergarten through eighth grades. And according to Aubert, students are allowed to use their laptops and iPads in the classroom as an accessory to learning after signing a responsible-use agreement.
"The main advantage of kids using their own devices is that they're familiar with them," Aubert said. "It's a seamless transition between school and home because it's the same device."
Kids who don't have access to their own technologies are provided laptops by the school.
"Everybody agrees on the rules, and then we key in a wireless password so the child is protected by (the school's) firewall," Aubert said, who additionally noted that there are consequences if a student goes outside the set parameters and engages in inappropriate behavior.
Using new technologies create "dynamic ways to study," he added, and it lends itself to curriculum enhancement.
Aubert then gave an example of this concept in action: Students at Holy Family were recently studying for an anatomy test, and a child downloaded an iPad application displaying a three-dimensional skeleton. The app showed which joints moved which ways, and flash cards where built into the program.
Applications like these give kids interactive ways to study, and it increases repetition during the learning process.
Plus, learning to operate new technologies for a variety of outcomes is "an essential skill to be competitive in today's world," Aubert said.
Parents throughout the Grand Valley also agree that using new technologies with their children help positive development. Even so, many say limitations are necessary to protect their kids.
According to Grand Junction mom Eva Cannon, computers offer interactive, engaging experiences for her kids, which is preferable to having them sit passively in front of a television.
"I think kids today entered a world where digital technology is ubiquitous, and they speak the language fluently," Cannon added.
Cannon also said her 4-year-old daughter's cognitive development was definitely helped along by using techy gadgets at home.
"Some cognitive skills that my daughter developed are memory, reasoning, perception, and concentration," she said. "I remember the day that she came to me and showed me all the steps through a memory game she started playing - starting from the home page, getting to the game and then teaching me how to play the game."
Lindsey Walker, an Orchard Mesa mom of three, said she's experienced many positives from using new technologies with her children.
"I have a 2-1/2-year-old whiz with an iPod," Walker said. "(I) stopped letting him use the iPhone when he started making calls! He maneuvers through the apps and knows how to find his games."
Walker also said "kids have it much easier adapting to the speed of change because it's all (they've) ever known. You can give my son an iPhone, iPod or iPad, and he can maneuver them all without skipping a beat. It takes me weeks to figure out what I'm doing."
New technologies may also help child development in special-needs kids, and Walker noted some amazing strides with her middle child, who has a neurological disorder called Angelman Syndrome.
"He is 6 and nonverbal," she said. "While trying to teach him communication with photos for years, he's shown no interest in them and we hit a roadblock."
By introducing an iPod at home and iPad during speech therapy, Walker said her son is now finally showing interest with the help of new technologies.
"(He's) beginning to understand how to use his fingers to manipulate the apps," she said. "For the first time, I see communication in our future and we hope to get him his own iPad soon, after the price goes down some. It's amazing how technology is improving the lives of people with special needs!"
Priscilla Mangnall, a local mom and grandma, said she thinks anyone alive in this day and age, not just kids, has "a better chance of learning the new technologies."
"I've been on a computer since 1985," she said. "The new technologies get easier, not harder, to learn because the companies that design the software and machines make it easier. Kids today, like my grandson, have pretty much been able to understand the navigation process from their earliest exposures. It's like learning anything. It just takes practice and a lack of fear."
Even so, Mangnall does have her concerns.
"What I do fear is the content of video games and the fact that people spend too much time playing with a screen in a make-believe world someone else has created rather that being outside, creating your own fantasies in this big, old, wonderful real world."
Walker also agreed that too much time using new technologies isn't necessarily a positive.
"With technology comes knowledge," she said. " ... However, with the growing trend of everyone having a smartphone, I think kids (and some adults) these days get more into a digital life and have a hard time setting it down and being a part of real life. Like kids over-playing video games or watching too much TV, you can over-use smartphones. You need to have time away from technology."
Cannon, too, said she has fears about children being loose on the Internet, " ... like interacting with people they or the parents don't know, accidentally attracting viruses and not understand the consequences. The cyber world is huge, and my only concern is keeping kiddos safe in it."
To protect her children from internet unknowns, Amy Pace, a Grand Junction mom of three (ages 13, 10 and 9), said she monitors her children's computer use through Familysafety.live.com. This free program ensures that she knows exactly what her kids are getting into on the wide, wild web.
"I can set the guidelines as to how strongly I want to monitor," Pace said. "We started using it when my oldest was about 10, and it was set to very strict monitoring. As he would learn about websites he wanted to visit, he would type it in and it will bring up a permission box. Parents can input a decision right there, or the child can send a request to the parent by email. I like it because I can check out the website prior to my child and prior to giving permission."
"You can also set time limits, and game or app restrictions," she added. "This comes in handy for discipline."
Pace additionally said she can view a summary report of everything her kids have done while they're logged into the home computer.
"I know children learning about technology today is a big thing, and a lot of it I think is good for them," Pace said. " ... I believe it will help them to succeed in our modern world. But, with that said, our world today has a wealth of (information) at our fingertips, most of it being things I don't want my children dealing with."