This is a topic of much debate, particularly for this generation with the ubiquitous tablets and smart phones. Previously, parents were already finding it a challenge to find the right amount of TV screen time and navigating the appropriateness of even children channels. Now there are more parenting considerations, for instance how much time to allow, which device, which smartphone apps and how to monitor and control access? With many aspects to consider, this article seeks to address the key considerations for electronic device usage.
Finally, a Device to the Rescue?
In today’s dual-income family, parents are time-strapped – It can be a pressure cooker during the after-work hours to get the child to bed while tending to chores, meals and preparation for the next day. Letting the child play with an educational app may be better than watching TV, with the option for parents to select engaging and enriching educational tools for their child. If electronic devices have something to offer to help the parent and child, why is there so much discussion about banning them?
The three key areas of concerns are:
1. Starting Too Early
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation is to avoid screen time for young children before the age of 2 years. The reason is that during this time of rapid brain development, the brain develops best if stimulated by actual persons and environment, instead of screen interaction. Instead, over exposure to electronic device/TV had been associated with attention deficit disorder, learning and behavioral difficulties.
2. Using Too Long
The other concern with electronic usage is exposing the child for too long. The recommended time is an hour per day for ages 3 to 5 years, 2 hours per day for ages 6 to 18 years. Even for adults, staring at a screen for too long can cause problems associated with:
Sitting too long adds to the period of inactivity in a day and increases the risk of obesity, which in turn is associated with diabetes, heart disease and chronic diseases.
- Sleep Deprivation
Should the child be allowed to have electronic device in the bedroom or after the family sleeps, there is the likelihood of the child sacrificing sleep to continue with electronic usage. Sleep deprivation could lead to concentration issues in school.
- Behavioral Issues
It is relatively early stage research as to the impact on one’s behavior, but prolonged technology use had been associated with aggressive behavior, depression, anxiety, concentration, learning and memory difficulties.
Other issues are related to eye fatigue, possible radiation risk and bad posture. These can be mitigated for instance, by taking 20 second rest to look into the distance every 20 minutes and adopting the right sitting posture.
3. Interacting Too Little
The concern for electronic use is not restricted to just children, but also the parents. There are reported cases of children feeling neglected or display attention seeking behavior as the parent is constantly tuned to their device. Addiction to device can happen for both parents and children, and children can get detached and resigned to time with their device, modeling their parents’ behavior.
On the other hand, if electronic usage is introduced to children at the appropriate age and used for a suitable length of time, it has been proposed to offer benefits beyond simply helping the parents keep kids occupied. In particular, the benefits seem to be maximized if electronic use is supervised by adults. The learning benefits are:
- Reinforce the School’s Learning Themes
For instance, classes are often run in themes in preschools and adults can download apps or direct the child to explore sea creatures, zoo animals or weather, inline with the school curriculum. There should be an educational element in choosing what to expose the child to, beyond pure entertainment. Instead of themes, parents can also choose apps based on skills, ensuring that they are sufficiently challenging for the child to learn beyond the mindless tapping on the screen.
- Reach beyond the Classroom
Children can be taught to look for information on their own, digest and compile them. For older children, parents can encourage them to use the internet and social media to pursue an interest, for instance video making and learning how to leverage YouTube, or drawing tools and setting up a portfolio blog.
Therefore discernment and moderation are required, and there isn’t an outright answer to ban or embrace devices. Every family dynamics is different, but it doesn’t hurt to put in a little extra effort to supervise electronic usage, explore non-electronic options or the great outdoors!