The presence and use of technology by children is an ongoing topic of concern. On one side is the insistence that any exposure to screens is inherently bad for children. On the other is the expectation of advanced education at a young age.
Technology is a tool. It is neither good nor bad; it's all in how you use it. Computers, smartphones, tablets, and TV have received their share of criticism, but there is no turning back the clock to a technology-free childhood.
Technology carries benefits and advantages. It can also be detrimental. Balance is the key.
The Advantages of Screen Time
Education is one of the most significant advantages of technology - you can learn about almost anything using a computer or smartphone, a web browser, and a search engine. For children, the benefits span the educational sphere, including:
- Using technology to perform research
- Playing online educational games to learn math
- Improving language skills and learning new languages
- Encouraging developmental skills such as hand-eye coordination
- Promote some physical activity like dancing
Educational programs on television existed well before home computers were a thing. Now there are apps aplenty that teach a variety of classroom skills.
The Downsides of Screen Time
You can always have too much of a good thing. Screen time is no different. Technology overuse can lead to:
- Sleep disruptions: Watching electronic screens can make it difficult to go to sleep and stay asleep. Technology can also lead to staying up too late.
- Social disruptions: When children use technology, they are not interacting with other people. They need quality family time and practice relating to others.
- Social awareness reduction: The ability to read human emotions decays.
- Attention-deficit problems: Children on technology may be less able to control their impulses and concentrate for long periods.
- Physical activity reduction: Unless using a dance or exercise application, technology use encourages sitting still too much and distracts children from physical play.
- Cyberbullying, stalking, and inappropriate content can become an issue if children are not taught to keep personal information off the internet.
- Some children see reductions in grades when they have too much screen time.
None of these downsides listed above warrants taking away all electronics until the kids grow up. They need to learn how to cope with the bad as well as appreciate the good. Parents and teachers should come together to develop a plan to help children learn to use technology appropriately and responsibly.
After all, kids will be using this technology for school and work. Learning as they grow helps instill good habits early.
Screen Time Limits
The American Academy of Pediatrics provides guidance on the amount of screen time children should have at various ages:
- 2 years old and under should have no screen time. However, newer studies have shown screens to be handy ways for small children to see family members and friends with video-chatting apps.
- 3 to 5 year-olds should be limited to no more than an hour a day in front of a screen, including television.
- Children over six should use technology with consistent and appropriate limits . As they grow older, time limits can be revisited and renegotiated.
Moderation is the key, as it is in most things.
Tips for Kids and Technology Use
Maintain a Balance
As we mentioned before, there is no reason for an outright ban on technology. You and your students and children should have a sustainable practice for using technology while keeping it in its place.
Balance screen time with face-to-face interaction as well as physical activity. There is no one size fits all plan for families. Each family must determine the best way to create a balanced media policy. If parents and teachers see no sign that the amount of screen time has been detrimental, then a balance has been reached.
Some of the warning signs of unhealthy technology use include:
- Complaints of boredom without technology access
- Resistance and tantrums when screen time is limited
- Interference with school, personal interaction, and sleep
Make sure the children are accessing age-appropriate content that is interactive and thought-provoking. Set social media privacy settings to restrict what strangers can see. And be prepared to talk about screen time limits more than once.
Be a Role Model
Children copy adult behavior. If parents or other adults spend time on their devices instead of paying attention to what’s around them, the children will do the same.
Some children may feel like they are competing for a parent’s attention. Teach everyone how to unplug by:
- Setting boundaries for work and family time. Stay off the devices when picking up or dropping off at school, after coming home from work, and during meals and outings that are meant for family time.
- Knowing when you must be plugged in and when you don’t. No texting while driving and no oversharing. Make sure to take time away from the device.
- Practicing what you preach. Children notice when adults do the very things the children are told not to.
If adults have trouble following limits on technology use, how can you expect a child to learn to do so?
Make Technology a Family Affair
Get together as a family to decide the rules on technology use. Now is the time to teach children how to self-regulate. They are more likely to follow rules they had a hand in formulating.
Be involved in children’s technology experience. Sit with them as they play a game, help them navigate the web, and teach them how to set up files. Tailor the approach to the child's interests and abilities. The age ranges aren't stamped in stone. They are a general guideline to help adults set the right limits.
Is Screen Time Inherently Bad?
In a word, no. Technology is an excellent tool for learning and developmental advancement. Everyone uses technology and electronic devices daily. Children will use tablets and computers in school, and they often use smartphones for entertainment and communication.
Help them develop good habits now. Just as limiting television has been an issue since TV began appearing in homes, electronic devices require the same consideration.
Technology is out there. It’s hard to get away from it. It’s better to understand the good and the bad, then take a hand in teaching children how to use technology wisely.