It’s hard to get away from technology these days. Smartphones, smartwatches, smart TVs, tablets, laptops, game consoles, and various other digital knickknacks. They’re everywhere. In fact, the average consumer owns 3.64 connected devices in 2016.
Technology on its own is neither good nor bad, though. It’s all in how we use it. As parents and educators, we have an obligation to help our children develop a healthy relationship with technology in their lives.
Children need to understand it to appreciate the pros and cons.
We live in a digital, always-on society, and ignoring or actively shunning that does ourselves and our kids a disservice. They will need tech skills. They will use devices in their future careers. They need to be digitally capable and savvy.
Like so much, it’s all about moderation and our attitude towards it.
Recognize the Benefits
To begin with, let’s remember that modern technology does have a lot of good things to offer: access to information, convenient storage, retrieval, and production of documents and assignments, creation of digital media like video, music, and images, communication across great distances, and fantastic collaboration possibilities.
Many experts suggest highlighting these uses, of pointing out that technology is about more than just consumption of media. It’s also about creation and connection. Find opportunities to use technology with your children that involves creating something with them (record a song, make a mini movie, manipulate digital photos in a funny way), or connecting with another person (video call with Grandma and Grandpa, sending an email to a pen pal in another country).
Move them beyond just watching videos and playing games.
Harmonious or Obsessive?
Psychologists believe that we engage with activities in either a harmonious or obsessive way.
Harmonious activities exist alongside other things in our lives. We watch a show on Netflix while taking the bus to meet up with friends (but then put the device away when we get there).
Obsessive activities take over, like canceling plans with those same friends so you can play online video games and keep watch over everyone’s Twitter feed.
Ensure your child has a harmonious relationship. Texting with friends to make plans? That’s okay. Staying up all night to post on Facebook? That’s not okay.
Establishing a Healthy Relationship with 8 Technology Tips
Every child is different, so blanket statements and guidelines are imperfect at best. Only you can say for sure whether your or a loved one’s relationship with technology is healthy.
That said, there are a few widely accepted best practices to follow:
- Children under 18 months should have minimal exposure to digital media outside of video calls with family and friends (with help, of course).
- Kids between 18-24 months can be introduced to digital media and tech toys like iPads, but limit the amount of time they spend with it, and seek out quality programming (check out Common Sense Media) and apps. Use the apps and watch the shows with your toddler.
- Between 2-5 years of age, most experts suggest limiting digital media consumption to one hour per day. This time does not include homework or digital creation and connection activities. As children get older, you can increase that limit (older kids may want to watch a movie on Netflix, for example).
- Everyone universally agrees that devices and tech toys should not be allowed at the dinner table, and most believe that bedrooms should also be a “device-free zone”.
- Turn off screens at least one hour before bedtime (this goes for mom and dad, too). Studies have shown that the blue light from a device screen can interrupt our natural sleep cycle. Instead, spend that time on bath time, getting-ready-for-bed routines, reading with your child and asking them about their day.
- Model good behaviour for your children by putting your own phone away when out with friends, engaged in a family activity, walking, or talking with someone. Much of what they do is learned behaviour.
- Consider a “digital detox” day on the weekend, where no one is allowed to engage with devices or computers for a full 24 hours.
- Resist the temptation to use technology as a babysitter. It should be more about creation and connection than consumption with very young kids.
There’s no escaping technology, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s all in how you approach it, how you use it, and the control you give it over you.
At Pear Tree, we introduce technology in our Early Years Program because we recognize the role it will play in the lives of children growing up today. It’s a necessary enhancement to their learning and skill set.
Create, connect, and consume, in that order. That’s healthy tech for the 21st century.