Tech and Your Tots, Friend or Foe?

You’ve said it, your friends have said it, and your parents won’t stop saying it. “Boy, am I glad social media didn’t exist when I was a kid.” While we may be overlooking some pros of our current technological age, I think we can all agree that we are thankful that the foibles of our childhoods, and most definitely our teen years, were not broadcast for the world to see. But, times have changed. Drastically. Not only is social media a staple of young people’s lives, the rise in technology as a whole presents an entirely new challenge for parents, as well as some solutions. This month we will be exploring the issue of modern technology throughout the stages of development to offer some tips and strategies for your child’s usage.

Techie Toddlers

The use of technology at this age presents the most concerns for parents, pediatricians, and researchers alike. The first three years of life mark the most rapid period of brain development in a human life, and studies have shown again and again that children this age learn best through verbal communication combined with physical interaction, like reading and play.  Though experts agree that future technology shows promise in being able to facilitate learning at this age, what we have now just isn’t cutting it.

But let’s get real. Sometimes you need a few minutes or more to make a phone call, pay some bills, or even run to the bathroom, and that would be a lot easier if your little one was momentarily distracted. Throwing some “Winnie the Pooh” on the iPad while you get something done is fine. Just try not to exceed an hour a day.

We also recommend keeping mealtime tech-free and full of conversation. We know this can be a prime time for you to finally check your e-mail, but setting an example by staying off your devices and keeping the videos out of the dining room will go a long way toward helping your child’s vocabulary and conversational skills.

Clicky Kids

Once your child is elementary or middle-school age, technology can become a very useful tool. They can chat with friends and family face-to-face though miles away, thus increasing their sense of community, which is great for self-esteem. Access to certain applications and web pages can foster greater creativity, motivation, and overall industriousness, as the answers to many of their questions are only a click away. Some studies have even found that operating technology can fine-tune motor skills and enhance hand-eye coordination. And let’s face it, technology isn’t going anywhere, so teaching your child how to use it as a tool to enhance their lives certainly isn’t going to stunt them.

That said, at this age children should not be surfing the web by themselves. Despite ongoing efforts to police this new frontier, it’s still the wild west, and youngins can easily find themselves stumbling into the wrong saloon, as it were. In addition, too much time on any device, with any application or game, can also promote sedentary behaviors and a decrease in personal interactions, which is still vital at this age. Computers, devices, or video games in a child’s bedroom has also been linked with sleep deprivation. So, the bottom line here is, temper the time, supervise the searches, and keep the alluring buttons out of the bedroom.

Tweeting Teens and Tweens

Facebook and other social media platforms have a rule that members must be 13 or older to create a profile. Of course it is not unheard of that a tween lies about their birth year, but for the sake of “social media law”, let’s use this as the earliest age a parent can consider allowing their child to join the online community. Whether you decide that 13 is appropriate or not is completely up to you, but regardless of age, here are some tips to help you and your child take the plunge with increased safety and security.

Create your child’s online profile with them. That way, you can have greater control over how they are presenting themselves to the world, and you will hold their login information if anything goes awry or you need to shut it down. Be sure to make use of the privacy settings and do not include information like phone numbers or addresses. Remind them that the same social rules that govern their “real” lives apply to the Internet ten-fold. Anything that they post will exist in the nebulous vacuum of the online universe forever. Hopefully this trend will change, but these days your social media presence can affect the college admissions process and even hireability for jobs down the road.

And finally, no matter what the age of your child and the type of technological device they choose to engage in, keep your ears and eyes open for changes in behavior, lethargy, or stress that seems to stem from the practice. They may not love you for it in the moment, but responsibly and respectably controlling their use of technology will most likely earn you a big, fat “thank you” somewhere down the road.