Kids and technology: Is it ever too much of a good thing?

Learn about ways to use technology responsibly with young children.

Kids and technology; it’s unusual to see one without the other these days. The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that “today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media.”  These estimates include time spent watching television, using a computer, on the telephone (talking or texting) and using other electronic devices.

How much is too much? Does the child’s age matter? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limited screen media for all children and discouraging it for children under two years of age. 

The July 2014 issue of Child Trends points out that technology can impact a child’s well-being and overall health. Studies have shown that even having TV on in the background can decrease the attention span of a child with a toy and affects the amount of time they spend in play. This also has an adverse effect on parental interactions with children in both quality and time spent.  Recent studies have linked excessive media use to attention deficit, eating and sleep disorders, problems with school and a connection to risky behaviors in adolescence. 

What about all the good things that technology can provide? Isn’t it the way of the future? Don’t our children need to know how to use it? The answer to those questions appears to be affected by what the Fred Roger Center for Early Learning calls the three C’s; content, context and the child you are dealing with.

When choosing content, your intention should be to educate, to introduce the child to new information, to help develop particular skills and/ or to entertain. It is not necessary that the content does all of these but the key is having intention. Ask yourself what your child is actually learning or playing by interacting with the media. 

For children who are age five or under the context should encourage engagement with another person; parent, sibling, teacher or a peer. There should be a goal to encourage interaction in the process of using media. You may want to ask yourself how this choice fits in with your daily routine. Who will be interacting with the child during the experience? 

Each child has his own physical abilities, interests and social emotional needs. Media choices need to take into consideration the age and developmental stage of a child. Is the material an opportunity for your individual child to learn and grow?

Michigan State University Extension recommends several ways that parents and caregivers can use technology responsibly: 

  • Limit television in the background. Don’t become dependent on it for the noise. If you aren’t watching and interacting with it, shut it off.
  • Meal time should be a screen-free time; no exceptions. Don’t eat in front of the television. Mindless eating often occurs when in front of a screen. 
  • Set a good example. Your children are watching you. 
  • Don’t use screen time as a reward or punishment. Often this will overemphasize the importance of watching TV or using the computer.
  • Limit television and computers to a family area. Keep them out of the bedroom. Sleep disorders can be related to watching television in the bedroom. It is also much easier to monitor screen time when you can see what your child is doing. 
  • Watch television or movies with your child. Encourage activity during screen time; mute the television during commercials and stretch, jog in place or have a discussion about what you’ve been watching. 
  • Set limits on screen time. Have screen-free times planned into your family schedule. Unplug! Provide options for activities that include playing outside, learning a new game or going for a walk. You provide the choices and the child can decide what she would like to do. 

There are many digital tools that can improve your life and assist your children as they learn.  Remember the three C’s and have a plan for how, when and where you will incorporate screen time into your daily routine. Technology can provide lots of opportunities for children and families when used in moderation and with a plan.

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