The Great Tech Debate: How much technology is too much for our kids? What’s technology doing to our kids?
Last week, I sat on the edge of my daughter’s gymnastic class and noted that every sibling in the room had a device of some sort. Despite the playroom set up nearby, all the children who were not directly involved in the class were immersed in the digital world of smartphones and tablets. My own two boys were no exceptions – as soon as we sat down they started clamouring for my phone and honestly, I’ve been considering bringing my iPad along too (for myself!) as there are only so many cartwheel attempts I can watch…
As a teacher, many parents seek my advice about the use of technology. As a parent, I have become interested in this area and the effects that technology has on the development of young children. It’s scary that truly portable technology is so new that there’s no data for longterm study – our children are the guinea pigs whose experiences will guide the advice for future generations.
However, research suggests that children who overuse technology suffer in three main areas – here are some hints and ideas for alternatives.
Lack of personal interactions: How often is your child immersed in technology and missing opportunities for social interaction? I was very aware of this at that gymnastics class: my four year old who is desperate to start school for new friendships could have an informal playdate every week! Encourage your child to play when you can in these types of settings and you may be surprised that they will set a trend. Mealtimes are also important for social interaction within families so it’s great to set the rule that they’re technology-free (for everyone, including parents!) before your children disappear into the great grunting abyss of their teenage years.
Lack of creative thought: We’ve all used Peppa Pig as a babysitter at some time or another but those 5 minute episodes can add up, especially with the convenience of iView and that convenient little “next button”. This is a big problem if it’s occurring on a regular basis and your child is sitting passively for extended periods. One strategy is to set a timer which will make you aware of the time passing – this is a great way to avoid the “end of technology tantrum” too as children can visually be aware of their limit. It’s a useful reminder for parents that it may be time to encourage your child into more creative play, such as Lego or drawing.
Overactive brains: There are lots of amazing apps for children which provide many educational opportunities. But children also need time without stimulation to calm their brains which have to absorb and learn so much during the day. Parents often use technology as an option when their children are physically tired at the end of play, but don’t consider the mental fatigue that they may be facing. At times like this, less stimulating apps may be more appropriate, such as yoga or musical apps that encourage relaxation. If you wish to get the maximum impact from an educational app, a better time would be a short session in the morning when the child is alert and will be more able to retain information.
Recently I read one suggestion for managing technology usage for preschoolers that short bursts of technology are most appropriate as a strategy, on a 1:5 ratio. That is, if your child spends 30 minutes using technology, they should then spend five times this amount (2.5 hours) on other activities such as physical, social or independent play.
Whilst I’m pretty sure I’m still going to whip out the iPad at the doctor’s office or when I have to make an important phonecall, a more conscious approach is definitely the way to embrace the benefits of technology in our children’s lives.