An increasing number of parents are giving their children smartphones and tablet devices to play with. According to a survery from parenting website Babies.co.uk, more than half of parents admitted that they allow their children to play with their gadgets and 1 in 7 parents confessed to doing so for more than 4 hours every day.
Given that children under 10 years old are generally awake for around 12-13 hours per day, this is a huge proportion of their waking day.
Sadly, although most parents probably feel that children today spend too much time on smart devices, it doesn’t put most off using them to entertain children in order to get some personal downtime – or even to get a proper look at the menu in a restaurant!
There’s no denying it, when a distraction is required there is often no more effective tool than giving a child a smartphone or tablet. When you’re in a restaurant, in the car, or trying to hear the person on the other end of the phone, today’s technology often provides the quiet you need from your child in an instant.
Look around in any public space and you’ll see a least one child using a tech device. What really stands out though is that people aren’t confident that this form of entertainment is actually good for their child. Whilst most will probably agree that they could be educational, I’m sure a large proportion would feel that too much play on a tablet or smartphone would, or might, disconnect their child’s relationship with them.
The real problem with younger children playing with smart devices is what it leads to in the future. At what age will we teach them to sit patiently at the table in a restaurant, to make conversation with other people or to simply cope with being bored in every-day situations without producing our smartphone for them?
And then there are the medical reasons. Excessive exposure to the use of smartphones at an early age can trigger poor eye sight for kids. Their eyes constantly have to adjust to the phone screen, which can also be a cause for headaches and even migraines at a very young age. Long periods of use can also cause children to get overweight or develop other body ailments that may arise from inadequate physical activities.
It’s clear that the convenience of these devices is winning over parents, even some of those who think it might not be good for their child’s development. Tablets are helpful to parents in many situations, but it is their instantaneous effect that is probably their downfall. Once you establish them as an easy means of entertainment for your child it becomes hard to draw the line on when to take it away.
Children can learn from using these technologies, but it is easier to justify our children using smartphones and tablets if we feel they are learning something from it. But for them to get the most out of a smartphone app you need to be involved too – talking about what they’re looking at and helping them to understand the point of what they’re doing.
Experts are recommending caution where these devices might be substituting play that could be more beneficial for a childs development. “They could be exploring their surroundings, interacting with their parents or learning to move. Children under two years of age learn best from real-world experiences and interactions, and each minute spent in front of a screen-based device is a minute when your child is not exploring the world and using their senses, which is extremely important in their development process,” says Dr. Carolyn Jaynes, a learning designer for Leapfrog Enterprises.
Think about what these devices can do to your children. Think about long-term rather than short-term effects. Hopefully, you will make the right choice. As a parent, I encourage my 7-year-old son to have healthy social skills that don’t involve a battery charger. Sure he loves his Xbox and iPad (much more than regular TV), but the day he can’t look me in the eye and have a meaningful conversation is the day I pull the plug.