These are certainly trying times for parents when it comes to technology and their kids. From TV to video games, iPads and iPhones and numerous other devices and gadgets, children are using more technology than ever before. This leaves parents in a tough spot, wondering where the balance lies between the benefits and adverse effects of technology.
Recent statistics show that children are engaging with digital media for an average seven-and-a-half hours per day. However, the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours per day of screen time and none whatsoever before kids turn two. But the question remains: how much is too much technology for kids?
There is considerable debate as to whether technology is useful or harmful to children, with some advocating minimal use of technology while others feel gadgets, such as the iPad can enhance learning and development. The answer seems to lie in choosing and using technology wisely, taking into careful account your child’s age and maturity level. This is an important and tough job for parents who didn’t grow up with most of the tech products available now, while their children have been dubbed the ‘iGeneration’.
Studies by psychologists show that today’s kids may use their brains differently to children in previous generations. The news is mixed: media such as television and video games may limit some aspects of mental skills, but also help improve them in other ways. Playing complex video games has also shown an increase in visual reasoning skills, such as seeing information and processing it quickly to come to a judgment.
The studies also found that today’s children are better than their ancestors at multi-tasking. This appears to be a result of the increasingly complex visual information they have to process. However, the changes aren’t all positive: while children can cope with complex information, it doesn’t always aid learning. Technology also appears to be damaging critical reasoning and attention span, leaving children less skilled at concentrating on a particular point for a long time. This makes it much harder for them to solve longer and more complex problems. There is also the risk of losing real-life communication and social skills, too.
Apart from the pros and cons of technology, studies have also shown that exposure to tech can actually change the brain’s structure in areas such as the frontal lobe. While some changes are positive, others can lead to disorders such as ADHD.
What Parents Can Do
1. Remove the TV and other technology from a child’s bedroom. Ideally, ‘brain drain’ devices should be outside of private spaces so they can be monitored by parents.
2. Consider enacting a family media policy. This can begin by a discussion as a family about technology and media and should include time limits on gadgets, age restrictions and certain times when technology should not be used.
3. Set aside ‘unplug’ time by having the whole family disconnect. Start with one hour per day, one day per week and one week per year. At first this may be difficult but it can foster real communication and quality family time.
4. Evaluate the technology your kids use by taking into account their developmental age and maturity. Infants respond well to touchscreen technology that will foster their tactile or kinesthetic learning style. School age and young preteens have been shown to develop hand-eye coordination and decision-making skills through video games – ideally, only those that have been properly researched. Read the age warnings on video games and sit with your child to see what the games are really like.
5. Regardless of the rules that are set up in the home, children learn a great deal by observing what their parents do. Parents must model responsible technology use which goes a long way in teaching children how to incorporate technology into their lives in balanced way.
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