Toys versus screens – which would your child pick? In a nationwide poll conducted in UK, touchscreens were preferred by children rather than dolls, action figures, or construction-based toys. Children spend more time on their touchscreens compared to other traditionally popular toys. Are these results surprising?
With mobile devices so highly sought after, parents are increasingly worried that excessive device usage can result in health problems, socialisation issues and addiction problems. We often see children (and adults) glued to their screens when eating, taking public transportation or even crossing the road. Is this constant “screen staring” a worrying behaviour? Should we keep the devices out of reach?
Combatting the Dark Side of Technology
Some parents think an outright ban of devices is necessary. We are all too familiar with the repercussions of using gadgets, from deterioration of eyesight to lack of sleep, poor performance in school or inability to regulate emotions due to the addiction. It’s precisely these reasons why some parents are leaning towards cutting or forbidding their children’s use of mobile devices. Like every other technological innovation that has come our way, screens are prone to misuse or overuse. How do we overcome these problems?
Counter Eyesight Deterioration
Increased time on screens means less time outdoors and an increased tendency of myopia. Encourage your child to take regular breaks, do eye exercises and maintain a healthy distance between their eyes and the screens.
Content Censorship on Devices
Children can be exposed to inappropriate programmes unknowingly especially when screen time is not supervised. To ensure this does not happen, we can block browsers or apps that are not suitable. Both parents and fellow caregivers should be involved in their children’s screen time habits and monitor them accordingly.
Eliminating Mealtime Screen Dependency
Parents turning to screen time to solve mealtime woes are commonly seen. While this may work in the short run, it inculcates unhealthy eating habits. The best solution is to disallow any device usage during meals and do your part by role modelling this too! Keeping the devices and gadgets five feet away gives you a great time to bond during family meals and gatherings!
Performance in School
We hear about children so addicted to their screens they neglect their studies, resulting in poor academic performance, in addition to lack of sleep. While these cases may be less common, it is important to set recurring schedules that prevent them from using their devices unnecessarily during term time and critical periods such as examinations.
Socio-Emotional Well-Being of Children
There is an increasing trend of fidgety children unable to sit still nor focus in class due to excessive screen time. Some cases include children who are unable to contain their anger when the screen is taken away. Do those tantrums sound familiar? As parents, we need to take charge in educating our children about phone usage. Instilling good habits from young would prevent them from turning into monsters during a meltdown.
Knowing your opponents and having the right strategies can turn technology in your favour. Don’t blame the screen for the problems caused, but be proactive in managing your child’s screen time. This can make technology more of a useful tool rather than a thorny issue.
The Benefits of Technology
On the other hand, what are the benefits of using such gadgets? Can swiping a screen bring us benefits? Of course! Learning, communicating and picking up new skills can be achieved with just one finger!
Online Learning & School Assignments
It is not the type of screen that matters but what is on the screen. Learning is certainly made easier with mobile devices, with apps specially created to make algebra or phonics fun subjects. Apart from learning, some games encourage cooperation amongst peers and allow young minds to think about strategies thoroughly before executing them.
There is a rise in online enrichment courses and distance learning courses. Children can learn any time and anywhere. Online platforms even customise learning according to the pace of the child – something the traditional classroom may lack. Even teachers are increasingly using technology in the classroom for teaching purposes. Public schools in the United States now provide at least one computer for every five students. They reportedly spend more than $3 billion per year on digital content.
As schools increasingly incorporate the use of technology such as online assignments and research to parental notifications portals, it is challenging to avoid the use of the screen altogether. Children now receive assignments involving additional information and resource. There are also more “iPad assignments” given in schools worldwide as educational technology advances. Based on a study from Teen Research Unlimited done for the Verizon Foundation, 42% of 6th graders use smartphones for homework, while 57% of 8th graders did the same. Just like any other parent, we would want our children to complete their homework well, don’t we?
Nurturing Creativity and Learning New Skills
Think robotics competitions, maker movements, game designs and the future all about constant innovation. No longer is tradition the only way to get things done, most jobs will involve innovation and technology. Your child will face high probabilities of today’s jobs being phased out and taken over by robots while new jobs revolving new technologies are created. Hence, using technology to encourage your child’s creativity can be a long-term gain. Getting acquainted with game designs, storyboarding or even learning to code are great ways to get your child in sync. Coding is deemed to be the language of the future and many have predicted that it would an essential skill in future!
Breaking Down Barriers for Children with Special Needs
Clearly, there are great platforms available online that educate children through interactive avenues from drawing, to writing, penning stories and devising game strategies. These activities encourage cognitive development and participation, especially for those with special needs or for even introverted children. Rosie Flewitt, Senior Lecturer who studies Early Years and Primary Education at the Institute of Education in London says touchscreens are particularly motivating for children. Flewitt’s research in schools also found that iPads could make children more cooperative and help quieter kids to speak up. She thinks that is partly because the devices are highly intuitive multimedia hence encourage quick understanding through icons and pictures.
Tracking Your Child and Keeping in Touch
Mobile devices are also the best tools in knowing your child’s whereabouts and keeping in touch. This is necessary for peace of mind especially when children are out and about without their parents at libraries, malls, enrichment centres or at playdates. Positioning tools are also available to alert parents when children are stepping into “forbidden territories”. In addition, our children can contact us easily with their mobile phones. We feel assured regarding our children’s whereabouts with the aid of these devices. This is especially critical as many parents travel for work and want to keep in touch via “Skype” or “Facetime”. These are compelling ways to connect with loved ones and distance is not an inhibitor.
Instead of technology becoming a barrier, it can help bond families through games and activities. For example, the recent rage over Pokemon Go has in fact helped some families to bond while hunting down targets. Many senior citizens have also adopted technology quite quickly and younger family members can help them navigate interactive apps or even practise games that boost memory recall.
It’s Not About Using Less, It’s About Using Right
Screens might keep us apart with everyone swiping across screens during mealtimes or gatherings, but we can take control and help our families learn, share and connect with the very same technology. Raising the “screen generation” entails the inclusion of devices rather than banning them completely. Screens can help expand their horizon and we ought to harness this potential in an appropriate manner.
Balance is Key
Striking a balance regarding technology use is an approach most choose to take, but managing the balance can be challenging. Proper measures need to be in place so our children are less likely to develop an addiction. You can take charge of your child’s screen time through technology such that your child is given the freedom to use the device, but at the same time closely monitored so they do not go astray.
An outright ban of devices does not seem prudent if the benefits they bring are recognised. Not only can gadgets assist learning, they could also potentially help nurture creativity, encourage bonding amongst family members and break down learning barriers for those with special needs. With proper guidance and consistent limits set, your gadget can be a friend instead of a foe.
Technology is Here to Stay
We live in the “technology era” and technology will become more pervasive. To parents, this could be a scary fact to embrace. On one hand, there is easy access to knowledge and information. On the other, the amount of time our children spend staring into their screens will be prolonged.
The key is to find the right balance between giving and managing technology use. We should use technology to our advantage especially since device usage will continue to proliferate. Kristy Goodwin, author of Raising Your Child in a Digital World said, “Digital abstinence is not a long-term solution as our children will inherit a digital world.”
It’s better to teach your kid how to use a smartphone or tablet in a responsible manner now, than forbidding their use entirely. It’s much easier to set boundaries and inculcate a healthy pattern as they grow.
Don’t leave your children to their own devices. Be a step ahead of technology. Lead its usage and not be led by it. An environment with open communication and positive role modelling will help achieve the right balance of technology in your home. So, start today and start right!