As parents, you may find that modern life comes with many advantages in terms of the availability of gadgets. However, before you start to rely too heavily on its usage, you will need to carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages that it offers as it can be either beneficial or harmful, depending on how it is used.
Even Steve Jobs was known to be a ‘low-tech parent’ who did not allow his children any gadgets during school days and strict time limits during weekends. This is by no means an isolated parenting style as other technology CEOs also follow the same ‘no gadget’ rule for kids. Recently, Taiwan also passed a law making it illegal for children under two years of age to use electronic gadgets, while children under 18 are only allowed the use of gadgets for a reasonable amount of time.
Here, we explore the good and the bad of letting your little ones handle gadgets from a young age.
Differentiating between the good and the bad
The use of gadgets (e.g. smartphones, laptops, etc.) can be beneficial if they are used for educational purposes. Some advantages include:
- Providing your child with a stimulus for his senses and imagination through some creative apps.
- Helping promote his auditory senses by training his listening for example with stories.
- Encouraging improved fine eye-hand coordination through particular games while allowing him to be computer-literate.
However, just like anything in life, there can be too much of a good thing. The over-use of gadgets can make your child too reliant on them, and in more extreme cases, lead to addiction. This can be further exacerbated if parents use gadgets as a ‘digital nanny’ and leave their children to their own devices in the literal sense! In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents limit any type of screen time to less than one or two hours per day for children, while children below two are discouraged from any kind of screen time.
Some of the other potential downfalls that have been identified include:
- Gadgets aid learning, but do not encourage innovative learning – an over-reliance on gadgets from a young age can stunt your child’s creativity in searching for solutions to problems as he becomes used to being spoon-fed information. After all, most educational apps are just an improved version of their predecessor, i.e. dictionary apps, electronic books.
- Discourages conversation/interaction between you and your child – the digital connection can lead to a parent-child disconnection as your child may spend less time actually talking/interacting with you when he is engrossed with his gadget. Remember, the human element of interaction between your child and you is something you should treasure; don’t let a gadget come between you.
- May lead to sleep disruption – your child needs at least 12 hours of sleep daily in order for him to grow healthily. This can happen if he uses them before bedtime, or if he is in the room while you are using a gadget – the light emitted from gadgets have been shown to disrupt the body as it prepares to sleep, thus it can cause him to become alert/awake instead.
- Promotes a sedentary lifestyle – regardless of how stimulating or fun a gadget may be, they do not encourage your child to be physically active. Your child needs a combined total of at least 60 minutes of physical activity on a daily basis if he is to build strong muscles and grow healthily. Additionally, if he forms a habit of leading a sedentary lifestyle from young, he faces an increased risk of obesity.
Walking a minefield
It is virtually impossible to completely ban your child from using gadgets. If he cannot access one at home, he will likely find a way to get his hands on one elsewhere, i.e. at his friend’s house. The best thing that you can do is to teach your child on how to use gadgets responsibly.
Some tips on how you can encourage healthy usage of gadgets include:
- Set firm rules on gadget use, e.g. no gadgets at the dining table, set a timer on the gadget itself to control the amount of time spent on it (including how often or how long he is allowed to use it, regardless of whether he was playing games, watching a show, etc.).
- Monitor the apps/games he uses – always run through the app/game yourself to ensure that its contents are appropriate. The existence of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) is another aspect of online use that you must control – be sure to restrict his time on them as they can be very addictive.
- Never allow a young child unsupervised internet use – not all information that is found online is child-friendly, so you will need to exercise extra caution. If you are not able to monitor him yourself, use a childfriendly browser (e.g. KidZui Browser).
- Always make it a point to communicate with your child at all times about his gadget use. Let him share his views on how he feels. This way, you will have a healthy two-way communication going which will enable you to better connect with your child.
Lead by example!
There are undeniable benefits to the use of gadgets as it often provides an engaging means of learning. However, as parents, it is absolutely critical that you understand your role in determining the environment and setting an example as your child will emulate your own gadget usage patterns.
Additionally, how you as parents handle the rules of gadget usage will also reflect whether double standards exist. Far too often, many parents do not practice what they preach and this may lead to feelings of resentment, as children will feel that parents are ‘abusing’ their power. The problem with using the “do as I say, not as I do” parenting method is that it will undermine your authority, and indirectly teaches your child that as he gets older, he doesn’t have to play by the rules.
An educational contribution by Malaysian Paediatric Association.