For many years, parents have grappled with the challenges of raising young children in a multi-media world. Today, technology is more of an all-pervading presence than it’s ever been – which makes it more difficult for parents to know how to introduce it to their children so that it helps their development rather than, potentially, hindering it.
There’s often a tendency to focus on the downsides of children using technology, particularly excessive screen time. But technology can, when properly used and monitored, help to broaden your child’s horizons and expand their mind. The task for you, as a parent, is to find a way of striking the right balance – and we’re here to help you work out how!
Here’s how you can ensure your child enjoys using technology in a way that’s both safe and conducive to their development.
Technology and child development
Technology can play an important role in child development, when used appropriately. It offers more than just entertainment or a distraction and can make a big contribution to their intellectual growth and the development of a range of important skills. The potential benefits of technology for child development include:
Enhanced learning: Technology has come to play a much more important role in the learning process than it did in previous years. It allows for a more interactive and immersive learning experience, truly engaging children and firing their imagination in all kinds of ways. Brain training apps, to give one example, can help to sharpen your child’s cognitive control and develop their memory.
Better prospects: The jobs of the future will be heavily reliant on technology. Therefore, it’s more important to ensure that children are comfortable with using it from an early age – this is only likely to stand them in good stead in later years.
Improved problem-solving abilities: Technology encourages children in their efforts to understand problems they encounter and devise solutions for them. Some video games and apps, for example, require players to confront and overcome a whole range of challenges, putting their problem-solving skills to the test.
Encouraging independence and creativity: Technology provides children with the space to be more creative and helps to foster independence of mind. This helps to inculcate these important habits early on and puts children in a good position to keep developing them as they grow.
Kids using technology: introducing your child to tech
Every parent wonders about when the right time to introduce a child to technology is. But considering how technology – from tablets to laptops to smartphones – is so inescapable, we don’t really get to decide when that introduction takes place!
Instead, a better approach is to set some basic ground rules for your child’s use of technology. These should help to provide some structure and consistency: after all, children usually have consistent boundaries in other areas of their life, so it stands to reason that the same applies about their use of technology as well.
Here are some relevant points to consider in relation to how your child uses technology:
Set reasonable limits: It can be easy to leave your child in front of a smartphone or tablet screen for an extended period, but it isn’t necessarily healthy. Setting time limits (and sticking to them) is important for balancing your child’s activities and ensuring they don’t spend too much time staring at a screen. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has warned that this can have a range of negative effects on both physical and mental health. It might be a good idea to set screen time limits for yourself outside of work as well.
Don’t let your child become over-dependent on technology. You should always keep an eye out for indications that your child is spending too much time on smartphones or tablets. For example, they might become irritable or angry when told they can’t use them. Likewise, if your child’s concentration at school starts to suffer, it may be time for you to step in and further restrict their use of technology.
Use technology together with your child. Your child can get more out of technology by using it together with you, by playing games or watching videos together, for example. This can help to encourage a more interactive experience, and your child is likely to get more out of this than simple passive consumption. It also helps to ensure that you know what your child is doing.
Monitor their use carefully. Make sure you choose age-appropriate apps and games and keep a close eye on the content your child consumes. Obviously, this will change as they grow, and this will require ongoing vigilance on your part to make sure that what they’re watching and engaging with is appropriate for them. App blockers, for example, allow you to customise and control the content your child sees – important for keeping kids safe online – and to set time limits.
Technology for toddlers
As we’ve already noted, children today are surrounded by technology from a very early age – so it’s less a question of when we introduce them to it, but how. Curious toddlers will inevitably take an interest in tablets, smartphones and other such devices, and they can be remarkably quick to master them!
Needless to say, this poses a number of challenges for parents. It’s fine to allow toddlers to use these devices, but you should try to avoid allowing them to serve as ‘virtual babysitters’ – you might obtain a bit of peace for a while, but it may mean that your child becomes overly dependent on technology.
There are apps specifically designed for toddlers to use, which provide them with lots of fun while also serving educational purposes. It’s worth taking the time to research these and find ones which are appropriate for your little one; listed here, there are apps which can help toddlers with phonics, numeracy, problem-solving and more. Then you can spend some quality time with them as they play and explore, allowing you to help and guide them in the process.
As technology becomes ever more central to our everyday lives, it’s essential that children understand how to use technology – but also that they do so in a way that’s suitable for their age and beneficial to their overall development. From motor skills to literacy, this offers them a range of potential benefits. So good luck, and happy learning!
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