Continued from Part 1
We have laid down the cons of exposing your kid to technology at far too young an age in the first part of this article. Could there be benefits too? Read what the experts have to say and be the judge.
“What’s wrong with using tech to distract the kids?” – says Bunmi Laditan through CNN. So parents are using gadgets as “babysitters” to their kids nowadays, and write-ups about the subject lean towards making us feel some outrage. To this, Laditan curiously retorts, “so what?”
Letting modern kids be
“It’s one thing to have your kid play on your phone so much they develop juvenile carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s quite another thing to allow them to be – I don’t know – modern kids,” Laditan continues.
Dr. Michael Rich, the director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston expounds on this, explaining that digital media are as much a part of children’s lives as the air they breathe. And whether this is good or bad is a moot point now. The real challenge lies in figuring out how to help our children benefit from high-tech tools while still making sure that they are playing and learning in the tried and true ways.
Technologist Reuven Cohen, who also writes for Forbes, shares the same insight. As a parent, he says that he wants to expose his kids to technology early. Admittedly, it comes from a wish that his kids take after him, and from the joy he experienced playing with computer games when he was their age. He acknowledges that the early years are driven by a child’s desire to connect with others, to fit in and to stand out. If that’s the case, the computer has become the new playground for children, and just like in the real world, we must ask what they are playing, who they are meeting there, and what they are learning.
While some experts may be wary of technology and its possible adverse effects to a child’s developmental milestones, it has some good arguments that make gadgets worth a try. For example, the maker of Endless Alphabet, Callaway Digital Arts, describes its game as “setting the stage for reading success with this delightfully interactive educational app. Each word features an interactive puzzle game with talking letter and a short animation illustrating the definition. Before you know it, your child will be using words like gargantuan and cooperate!”
Perhaps we are a bit overreacting when we say that technology is killing childhood? Yes, parents should watch out for images and information that their children are not developmentally equipped to understand – and that’s aside from violence, sensitive material and online erotica. But isn’t it the same in the real world?
What could be more guilt and panic-inducing than an organization that dramatizes its findings into a sensationalized article? In an age of parenting extremism, it is so easy to buy into the fear-fueled parenting. As Laditan says, these kinds of research “throw gasoline on an already raging bonfire of guilt and judgment.”
The argument about the effects of early exposure to technology is not as simple as it seems. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration before experts could qualify that access to TV and gadgets at an early age IS bad. In an article published in TIME, Marie Evans Schmidt and her team conducted a study that observed the impact of watching TV and DVDs to the performance of some 800 youngsters on language and motor-skill tests. In her initial analysis, Schmidt found that babies who clocked in more time in front of the TV performed worse on the tests than those who watched less. But here’s the revelation: once their team controlled for other factors – the mother’s educational status and household income – the relationship between TV-viewing and cognitive development disappeared. This means that TV-viewing alone did not appear to influence babies’ brain development; a parent’s education and finances mattered more. (To read more about the study, click here.)
Technology itself doesn’t create problems. As Dr. Rich says, its impact is actually influenced by what we do with it. Just as we monitor the foods that our kids eat, so should we introduce quality media when they are ready, help them understand what they see and hear, and make sure they still have more time for homework, physical activity, family and friends.
More than chasing current parenting fads, I would rather find my own balance that works for our particular family. Advice is good, expert opinion is also okay, but we need to be a little more discriminating when it comes to extreme generalizations. As Laditan suggests, see anecdotal data for what it is and don’t mistake it for universal truth. Instead of feeling guilty as we are bombarded by seemingly urgent material for our consumption, let’s take it with a grain of salt.
Quick tips to help limit your child’s screen time
Here are some ways that could help you jumpstart parenting in the digital age from Becoming Minimalist.
- Set the example. Children tend to gravitate toward the modeled behavior of their parents. If you want your kid to be a bookworm than a TV junkie, read more and lessen your TV time.
- Be the parent. Encourage healthy behaviors and limit unhealthy ones, even if it means making unpopular decisions.
- Set limited viewing times. If you decide to allow your kids some TV/tablet time, choose the appropriate viewing/gaming windows for your kids.
- Encourage other activities. Play games, read books, make art and engage in sports activities together.
- Be involved in their kids. Observe, listen, ask and parent.
- Keep an eye on your child’s behavioral changes. And adjust accordingly.
- Value family meals and car rides. Put down that tablet and/or smartphone. Value the times you could share stories and laughs together. Don’t let the gadgets steal those from you.
- No TVs in bedrooms.
- Choose a mantra. Use a mantra that would create the transformation you want. As Joshua Becker says, every parent should have them and use them effectively. His “too-much television” mantra goes like, “there’s been too much screen time for this family.” Every time he says it, his kids know that they are about to spend some quality time together. Neat trick!
*”student_ipad_school” by Brad Flickinger. Used under CC license.