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Technology has drastically changed the way people live and do things. Electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops are regularly and frequently used by most people – even by very young kids, especially since touch screens make these gadgets very easy to use. Although the verdict on the use of these devices among children is not final, studies suggest that heavy use can do more harm than good.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has given its stand on this aspect by recommending zero screen time for children 2 years and below, and no more than two hours per day for children ages 3 to 18. Delays in social skills, speech, and gross motor development in children are being associated with prolonged use of mobile and handheld devices.
Despite the negative way mobile devices are being painted, some parents and even educators recognize the benefits these devices provide. There are loads of applications for almost anything, and young parents consist one of the biggest market segments of mobile applications.
Some parents might say that total abstinence from gadgets is next to impossible especially with the undeniable convenience they present, but it is possible to limit your child’s usage while still taking advantage of the benefits and conveniences that they provide. Here are some tips to help you do that.
1. Let the kids share
Resist the temptation to get a tablet for each child even if you can afford it. Although this would definitely avoid fighting and bickering, it also means that each child will have potentially longer time using his device. On the other hand, if there is only one device available, the amount of time it is used gets shared among your kids, effectively reducing each child’s device use. This will also be a good opportunity to teach your children the value of sharing and taking turns.
2. Set a schedule for gadget use
Whether your child has his own tablet or smartphone, or they only get to borrow yours, a specific time for using it should be agreed upon. You may want to follow AAP’s recommendation of a maximum of two hours for kids ages 3 to 8; feel free to reduce this further as you see fit. Another option is to allow any kind of screen time only during weekends or on certain days of the week. Whatever schedule you set, make sure that your child understands it and be vigilant in making sure that it is followed.
3. Exercise parental control
Part of the appeal of smartphones and tablets is the huge number and variety of applications that you can install. Installing new ones is quite easy and intuitive, even for young children so make sure you have parental control over the device that gets on your child’s hands. It is a must that you know every app installed and you get the final say on what gets installed or not.
Before installing any application, take it for a test drive by using it yourself. This lets you know what your child will be subjected to when using the app. Common Sense Media is an excellent website that rates movies, books, television shows, games, music, websites, and apps according to how appropriate they are for kids. The website can easily give you a rough estimate of the age-appropriateness of any app, as well as a review of the app based on different aspects such as ease of play, language, violence and scariness, and sexy stuff. You may also use the website for finding good apps you can install for your child.
Ensuring that the applications your child will be using on his device have passed your set of standards will likewise ensure that any time spent on the gadget is in line with your goals as a parent.
4. Provide options
Children are almost always looking for something to do and to keep busy with. If a mobile device is the only thing they can get their hands on, then they will use it. Instead of immediately offering a tablet or smartphone while eating at a restaurant, waiting at the doctor’s office, or traveling in the car, try to provide them with other options.
Keep an arsenal of stuff that can also keep them busy. Stick to things that your child finds interesting such as his favorite book or a new one he has not seen yet, some paper and writing materials, a small coloring book and crayons, a small container of carefully chosen LEGO pieces, an assortment of puzzles, a Rubik’s Cube, or anything else that can keep your child interested.
It is also good to bring your child outdoors or to other places where she can run and play. The key is to provide other engaging activities as alternatives. Think back to when you were a child when there weren’t any smartphones or tablets – what did you do for fun?
5. Set an example
This is probably one of the most difficult things in this list. If your child sees you spending a considerable amount of time without a smartphone or tablet in your hands, then it will be much easier for them to do the same. When you ‘disconnect’ from mobile devices, spend time with your child doing different things such as reading books, doing arts and crafts, cooking, playing, or even just sitting together and talking.
Mobile devices have undoubtedly changed how we do things and they have provided numerous benefits. However, although these devices have become essential for most adults, the same cannot be said for kids. Young children need various types of activities that will help in their overall development and spending too much time on tablets and smartphones may cause delays and hamper some aspects of their development. As with everything else, moderation is the key -- make the gadget work for you using the tips above, and it can be an invaluable tool to raising kids.