These days it’s impossible to stay away from technology. While it has brought us so many incredible advances in medicine, quality of life, etc., technology has also robbed us of “real life” in many cases. For children growing up in today’s world, it’s important that you ease them into technology slowly. Remind them of the joys of reading, spending time with friends and doing anything that doesn’t involve staring at a screen. If you have a toddler who is already starting to grab at your smartphone or tablet, below are some best practices when introducing your child to technology.
DON’T START TOO EARLY
Many people make the mistake of handing their child an electronic device simply to keep them busy. While most toddlers love to push buttons and swipe the screen on tablets, it does not mean they are ready to actually play with a computer or phone. Most experts recommend you don’t introduce your child to technology until he or she is at least two years old or in preschool. It is crucial that your child experience and interact with the world instead of experiencing everything via a screen.
DON’T MAKE TECHNOLOGY A PACIFIER
It is so easy to absentmindedly hand over your tablet or phone to pacify your child. However, by doing this, you are allowing him or her to not only get what they want any time, but to treat technology as a go-to any time they are bored. It is OK to let your child play with your smart objects from time to time (for instance, on a long plane ride or while waiting in a doctor’s office), but this should be something you think about before doing. Make sure your child is utilizing apps that stimulate his or her brain and try not to allow more than 20 minutes of screen time at any time.
ENCOURAGE SMART PROGRAMS
When your child is ready to handle technology, it’s a good idea that you find kid-friendly content for him or her to focus on. Do some research on the Internet to determine which programs are meant to be entertaining and which are educational. Many apps will actually include an age range that’s appropriate to make it easier for parents as well. Many iPad and iPhone apps can teach your child educational basics such as math, time, money, geography, music and art.
MAKE SURE YOU MONITOR USAGE
Especially important when your child is young, you should try to be as involved as possible with his or her technology use. Whenever your child downloads a new app or game, engage with your child and ask questions about the app’s content. Have fun with the experience and consider asking your child if you can have a turn on the game or play with the app. This will show your child you approve of kid-friendly apps. However, if you find your child has downloaded an app or game that is inappropriate, explain why you feel this way and delete the program yourself.
KEEP SCREEN TIME LIMITED
Experts suggest no more than half an hour of screen time per sitting for children ages four to five. As children age, that time may be upped to an hour. It’s important that your child does not exceed two hours per sitting. Of course, if he or she is using the device as a productivity tool, it is fine to extend screen time.
For older children, it’s often unavoidable that they spend hours staring at a screen each day. This can result in eye fatigue and strain. Doctors often recommend the 20-20-20 rule, which means that every 20 minutes you should spend 20 seconds staring at something 20 feet away.
COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR CHILD
As your child gets older, he or she is at risk of cyber bullying. Sadly, cyber bullying can begin as young as middle school. Recent studies have shown that up to 25% of teens are cyber bullied at some point.
Cyber bullying can be very difficult to identify. For example, some kids have stated that fake accounts and websites have been made solely to bully them. It is so important to communicate with your child while he or she is young, stressing to them the importance of cyber behavior. You should also make sure your child feels comfortable talking to you if he or she feels harassed online.
If your child is being harassed online, you may notice he or she appears emotionally upset during or after using the Internet, is extremely protective of his or her digital life, seems withdrawn from friends and family or avoids group gatherings. If you suspect your child is a victim of cyber bullying, let your child know it’s not his or her fault and reassure him or her that you will figure out how to improve the situation together.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Children are prone to pick up on what their parents do. This is where you come into play. If you are glued to your smartphone all day every day, your child will pick up on those habits. Conversely, if you spend time throughout the day enjoying “real life” by reading, hanging out with friends and family, etc., your child will learn to do the same.
This is also a good time for you to assess your personal relationship with technology. Do you scroll through social media sites as you go to bed at night? Do you find yourself distracted during family events because you have to check your phone every few minutes? Take this time to learn ways you can cut back on your technology use. Perhaps you can shut phones down after dinner each night or allow only an hour a day of computer time at home.
For more general and health tips for children, continue to check in on the Medical City Children’s Urgent Care blog regularly. Medical City Children’s Urgent Care has pediatricians that are board certified, offer convenient access to the expert care you need right when you need it and are even open after hours or on the weekend.
Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you or your child.