Help Young Children Take a Healthy Approach to Technology
Recent research shows that 40 percent of children between the ages of six and eight years have their own Internet-enabled mobile device, says Sandra McKinnon, an Iowa State University Extension and Outreach family life program specialist.
“And probably most parents of toddlers or preschoolers have handed over their phone or tablet to entertain their children in needed moments,” McKinnon said. “Our challenge is to make sure neither we nor our children lose contact with the real world as we inhabit the virtual one.”
What’s Wrong and Right with Screen Time
“Too much screen time means too little time spent on active play, reading and socializing — activities essential to your child’s development,” McKinnon said. In addition, the sedentary nature of most screen time has been linked to childhood obesity. Parents also should be concerned about commercialization linked to many technology games, because young children do not have the capacity to discern the subtle messages being sent.
“On the flip side, technology is here to stay and understanding digital tools can be educational,” McKinnon said. “Our children need to be supported in becoming good digital citizens. There is also the added benefit of using programs like Skype to connect with loved ones separated by distance.
“It is our job as parents to provide young children with balance,” McKinnon said. “Along with media and technology use, this should include considering our child’s time spent outdoors, playing with friends and getting enough sleep.”
What You Can Do
A simple way to set limits is by clearly establishing ground rules for technology devices. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends being very cautious about all forms of electronic media before a child turns two years of age. Older children should have no more than two hours of screen time per day.
McKinnonoffers these suggestions to help balance a young child’s use of technology.
- Be clear with specific time limits for your child. Give warnings when reaching limits and make sure other activities are available that interest your child.
- Eat at least one meal a day as a family and have the rule of no screens at the table.
- Find active games that get kids moving instead of just giving their thumbs a workout.
- Charge devices outside the bedroom to help ensure a good night’s sleep.
- Participate with your child while using technology. You are missing learning opportunities when you simply use devices as a babysitter.
- If you are not really watching a screen, turn it off. Interruptions of sounds and visual stimuli can negatively impact a young child’s skill development during play.
- Ban any games or sites that have violent or adult content. Check with your Internet carrier about using parental controls.
Set a Good Example
“Children do as parents do, not as they say,” McKinnon said. “So, be sure to follow your own advice about screen time. Examine your own habits such as how often you bring a device to the dinner table and how much you are texting rather than talking in person. Model for children a healthy approach to technology as well as the ability to occasionally unplug.”
Get free, up-to-date information specific to your child's age (prenatal through age 5) delivered by email just when you need it. Register for Just in Time Parenting, a monthly e-newsletter for parents in the first five years, at www.extension.org/parenting. Use the coupon code IA10JITP.
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