In this digital age we live in it is nearly impossible to raise a child without exposing them to technology at a very early age. Even before they are born they’ve come in contact with more sophisticated devices than most of us did in our first decade of existence (those 3-D and 4-D ultrasounds are wild, #amiright #justme). Knowing the rate of your child’s development and what technology to use to foster their growing mind can be a daunting challenge. I’ve attempted to wade through the amalgam of information out there about technology and children and siphoned out a few things that seemed important.
Much like television, the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) believes technology use should be limited for young developing minds. I personally believe in a “everything in moderation” approach. That said, it’s also important to realize that as a parent, it’s solely up to you and what you believe is best for your child. As no child is the same, nor is any parent, you shouldn’t feel pressured to let a magazine or journal tell you how to raise your child – instead, feel free to look to these mediums for inspiration and light guidance.
While you’re certainly not urged to buy any technology for children at this age, it’s inevitable that if it’s in the house, they will want to try it out. While there’s no conclusive evidence about how the use of cellphones and similar devices can impact small children, it’s often suggested that you limit the amount of contact children 0-12 months have with devices that emit wireless signals and electromagnetic fields. If you’re chatting with someone and want baby to have a turn, try putting your phone on speaker instead of holding the phone to the baby’s ear. You can also put the phone in airplane mode if you’re handing the phone to the baby as a quick distraction.
Children 1-2 years old can begin to use educational apps. It’s recommended you as a parent go ahead and install some of these for your kids (unless you want your contact list rearranged – fun for the kid, but lacking any educational value). If you’re looking for some good ones, here are a few sites with great recommendations:
From 2-3 years you can begin using eReaders to read to your child. Some parents and children enjoy the option of a paper book one night then a digital book the next. By this age they are all about the apps that sort shapes and finding hidden objects. From 3-4 years old your child can now swipe and understand the effect. They enjoy apps with easy puzzles and games. Now is the time to consider investing in some of those fancy LeapFrog toys or perhaps a tablet just for the child. There are lots of great tablet options for children that won’t break the bank:
Now the scary complicated stuff begins, from 4-5 they can begin to use the internet under supervision. By 5 kids can usually use a mouse and keyboard easily. Gamers everywhere can rejoice as kids can begin to indulge in active video games with the family. It is also a time to begin restricting the amount of time spent using these media devices as well as teaching them safe searching on the internet. Once kids begin to read and write they’re communication game really levels up and therefore so does their media use.
Somewhere in between ages 8-12 the highly debatable question “Mom, Dad, can I get a cell phone?” will come up (I know, it’s crazy, my first phone was for emergencies only when I was in my first year of college!) As far as I can tell there is no perfect age or answer to this question. A good approach that is recommended is to ask yourself, what will it be used for? Realize that a certain amount of emotional maturity is required (something that even some seasoned adults lack). Educate yourself and your child on cyber bullying, social etiquette and safety, and parental security settings.
While technology trends are very cool and innovative, it’s important to remember that children will always learn best from real life. Setting boundaries with technology is imperative to a child’s developmental growth and health. Interacting with people and not with a computer interface are an integral part of their cognitive evolution. But technology can also be a helpful and powerful tool in childhood education if wielded with respect. With the right balance and symmetry in a child’s life they can become masters of all!