Let’s face it, we are not living on the prairie anymore. I had grandios plans of keeping my child free from the contamination of tv, videos and the all- popular cellphone diversion. Need 10 minutes of peace? Hand a 2 year-old an electronic device. Doesn’t matter which one. I used to grimace at the thought.
It’s easy to judge parents when you’re just starting out, baby just got home from the hospital and you want to create Einstein’s lab right there in the cradle. You even researched what toys and books to buy so that baby will be ahead of the game.
Your Child Will Miss Out
There’s just one problem. Your little genius is going to finish last if you don’t have a change of heart. I’m not preaching, I know as well as anyone that anyone can learn a new skill, that’s it’s never too late to catch up with the Jones. Although in this case, you may want to consider keeping up with the Hashimotos.
The challenge we face is real: how bad is a little screen time for your kids? What happened to sending the clan to play outside? Isn’t nature healthier?
Parents. Mom. You’re asking the wrong questions. It’s not a matter of if they should be allowed. It’s a matter of skill development for the next generation.
Imagine your kid is entering elementary school and his peers all have the knowledge and know how of maneuvering and manipulating an iPad (“tablet”). Imagine the next generation relying on iPad use in high school. That day is coming! In some cases it’s already here. Imagine the skill set and experience that his first real job will require. If he is behind, uninformed, or unskilled in certain areas he will be passed over for those that come prepared.
I am an Apple follower, so if you don’t want an iPad, you can substitute the word for “tablet” it’s fine. I won’t even know about it.
My point is that electronics, computers, tablets, iPads, smart phones, etcetera, are beginning to mark success, not so much laziness. Of course there are way more geek gamers out there losing their tan than there used to be, but whether your child turns into one is still up to you.
Don’t Forget the Other Stuff
I will point out the obvious before I get into listing off the questions you need to be answering in order to make this decision.
First, babies and toddlers learn best through interaction, three dimensional, tactile and interpersonal activities. Touch. Talk. Eye-contact. Experience. If you are going to offer your baby or toddler time in front of a screen, you had better have a good reason. In my case, I allow my toddler to watch a few colorful videos while I do the dishes, but I turn them off when I can handle him being underfoot.
Second, nothing is good in excess. No exceptions. Studies show that over exposure to screens can cause cognitive problems related to attention span and appetite control as well as normal development of certain social skills like empathy and connecting emotionally.
Finally, there is no substitute for pretending, reading, puzzles or building a fort in the woods. If you automatically hand a tablet or smart phone to any child, remember that you are taking away an opportunity for them to figure it out for themselves and engage in any number of ultimate brain-developing activities.
Screen or No Screen
I’ve compiled a list of questions parents should be asking so we can make good decisions when it comes to our kids, their future and electronics.
Q. How early is too early to start?
A. The American Academy of Pediatrics will tell you to hold off handing a touch screen to a child under 2 because this is when their brain development is working the hardest, and they won’t learn basic social skills or be able to read emotions. One study showed that toddlers learn words faster with interactive applications. Like I said before, if you need a reason to hand a baby a smart phone, this might be a good one: vocabulary development.
Q. Should my child have his own device?
A. Honestly, this is a matter of how attached you might be to your own device and how often you’re willing to lend it to your antsy kids. Also, you might consider the uproar if you have children around the same age who typically get touchy when brother or sister “gets to” and they don’t.
Q. What should my kids be doing on the iPad?
A. This is a multi-part answer.
1) They should not be doing whatever they want.
2) Whenever you can be involved, interacting with your children as they play can keep the brain working on several levels, keeping your child from “zoning out,” and even help them develop social and verbal skills. Ask questions and describe what you are seeing together.
3) They should be doing anything challenging. If you’re going to give them this privilege it may as well come with the condition of achieving something. Second language learning, expanding vocabulary, science and math games are increasingly engaging.
Q. How much is too much?
A. The best way to gauge how much is too much is to observe your kid’s behavior. If they go nuts without an electronic device in their hand, begging you for yours, acting out when they don’t get their demanded screen time, you might want to consider sending them to day camp to readjust their preferences toward real life. Let’s just say a well-adjusted kid can do just fine without electronics.
Q. What are the major consequences (the cons)?
A. I mentioned a few already, but
1) you can expect a child who has any level of dependence on electronic devices to bury emotions and problems in screen time, meaning he will have a hard time dealing with his own emotions or solving his own problems.
2) This child is less self-aware and less able to handle anxiety.
3) Lower class kids and unmotivated children are more vulnerable to the negative effects of too much exposure to electronic devices.
Q. What are the outstanding pros?
A. Why you might still risk it:
1) I said it once, I’ll say it again: this is a skill that kids can’t afford not to develop. Technology is not going anywhere and pretty soon education systems are going to rely on hand-held technology to stay ahead. If your child falls behind in technology, he could quickly fall behind his peers.
2) Depending on the content, using a tablet or smart phone is a great opportunity to learn more, faster. Especially for little kids learning colors, shapes and letters. Also for language learning, cognitive development and increasing IQ.
3) Several applications on the market can set your child up for major opportunities. A second language opens doors for just about anyone. A child who has fun learning math and science has a better chance of good grades and scholarships. A child struggling to read can forget the struggle and enjoy a word game instead.