Imagine this: a parent and child are sitting in the living room after a lovely Christmas lunch. While the parent is scrolling through Instagram on their phone, the child is happily swiping the screen of a mini-tablet.
A few years ago, this scene wouldn’t exist but today it’s quickly becoming the norm. So how should we view this advancement in technology? And more importantly how is this impacting children’s development?
Let’s take a look!
Firstly, here are some things to note about technology
It’s here to stay
Whilst we see a lot of people take a negative approach to technology, the reality is that it’s here to stay. Expecting children to live in a tech-free zone is no longer realistic.
There are downsides to children having access to technology at an early age but there are also countless possibilities!
These include opportunities to use logic, develop problem-solving skills, learn early literacy and numeracy and more.
Communication and interpersonal skills
Statistics suggest that many children under 5 are self-sufficient when it comes to using phones and tablets to access games and programmes.
It’s good for children to have the opportunity to be independent but many of these games and programmes don’t help children practice the skills needed in human interaction.
This includes making eye contact, recognising, and responding to facial expressions and being involved in conversations. These skills can only be developed in real life.
Although there are benefits for children, parents need to be aware that screen time is essentially sedentary activity.
Some small hand movements are developed using tablets and phones but other skills like running, balance and coordination are not.
These movements are important for children’s health as they help to develop heart and lung function. There are also links between physical activity and brain development.
Research is lagging
The speed at which technology advances means that researchers are constantly playing catch up.
This means that research struggles to find the impact of different technologies and new media on children’s development.
Most experts, therefore, suggest that parents should stay on the cautious side when deciding how much time children spend using tech.
In terms of development, by allowing screen time you’re sacrificing time that can be spent elsewhere, for instance, with other children developing social skills.
Whilst short-sightedness is partly inherited, the amount of time children spend fixing their gaze at an object close to them is also a factor.
Sending time outdoors is beneficial for children’s eyesight so it’s recommended to balance screentime with outdoor opportunities.
Increasing learning opportunities
Educational apps and games can help introduce children to numbers, letters, sounds and shapes. It’s also worth looking out for games that encourage problem-solving skills such as moving puzzle shapes.
With the support of an adult, a little one can use the internet to find out more about something that interests them. For instance, finding out about the different kinds of wildlife in your local area.
Unlike TV, using streaming services allow children to select content which is more catered towards their interests and stage of development.
With the support of an adult, children can look at street view or map of different places like their home, preschool etc.
This can be a good tool to use for transitions so that children can see where they will be going.
Video calls are a great use of technology when young children are far from other family or friends. It’s particularly useful for children who are bilingual as a way of maintaining the home language.
Avoiding the negatives
Be a role model
Think about how you use technology. Do you turn off or ignore devices or do you look at your phone when you’re in a conversation or during mealtimes? How well you control your own device use will influence your little ones’.
Be selective about games
Choose the games your little one plays carefully – check that they are right for your child’s level of development and interests.
Know what your child is doing
If your little one gets into the habit of using devices without parental supervision early on, then you may find it difficult to enforce this when your child is older. Make sure to keep - especially internet use - supervised.
It’s easy for children to download apps or make accidental purchases so ensure that you check your parental controls.
Make bedrooms gadget-free zones
Blue light emitted from devices impacts sleep for both children and adults. Keep bedrooms as gadget-free zones to ensure they’re all about relaxing and sleep.
There is no definite answer to how much time children should be spending in front of a screen because it really depends on what it’s being used for.
The NHS suggests nothing for children under 2 and then up to 2 hours a day for 2-5-year-olds.
One thing to consider is that using technology is a sedentary activity. The health guidelines for children under 5 suggest children should be spending a minimum of 3 hours a day doing moderate physical activity.
Photo albums are great projects to work on with your little one. Plan photographs, draw pictures to go alongside and put them together in a scrapbook!
Not only will this be great fun but also help your child develop their creativity, confidence, communication skills and more.
Head outdoors with your phone and see if your little one can spot the differences between google street view and the real thing!
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