I had a lunch outing with a young mom the other day, and was delighted to see that she brought her two-year-old son. Of course, being two, he got a bit antsy before we ladies were done with lunch. Twenty years ago, I would have jiggled the baby, tried a few distractions from my diaper bag, then had to excuse myself before the tyke started howling and disturbed the whole restaurant. My young friend just handed him her mini tablet! When he tired of one game, she helped him switch to another, then finally put a movie on for him to watch while we finished lunch and he dozed off to sleep. Quite a change over twenty years!
Now, I’m not being critical at all. Parents are going to use the tools they have available to occupy, entertain, and yes, even educate their children. A few generations ago, we had televisions, then desktop computers and video games, and now tablets. The same questions loom, and I’m pretty sure we will arrive at the same answers: It’s not necessarily the technology that’s bad for kids, it’s how we choose to use it. The scientists can debate all they like, but the fact of the matter is that tablets are here to stay, and developers are very mindful of young parents’ tendencies to want distractions for little ones. Tablets for kids are here to stay. How will you choose to respond?
Granted, I don’t have a young child in the house anymore (though someday I may become a grandma). I do have some strong opinions on the subject, though, perhaps because I’m an educator.
Like television, computers, video games, and all of the other techie toys that we’ve grown so fond of, let’s use these devices sensibly with the kids. The key, like for most of the rest of life, is moderation and discretion.
I do feel that kids need to learn other strategies for distracting themselves, for soothing themselves to sleep, and for interacting with the rest of the world. I do feel that it is very counterproductive to ALWAYS hand your child a gizmo when he or she is fussy. I also feel that we do children a huge disservice when we use these devices as a substitute for interaction and monitoring that parents have always needed to be doing. In other words, tablets are no more babysitters than televisions were when my children were young.
That being said, tablets and phones and similar items are not going away any time soon, and we need to learn to use them (and have our children use them) wisely and well. Take the good things and maximize them and weed out the counterproductive aspects. That takes a bit of doing, but it is quite possible.
One of the first things I would suggest is an app (yes, there really is “an app for that”!) that allows you to enforce usage limits for your child. It will also give you information about just how much of the time you give your device to your youngster, which is good to have a clear idea about. One such app is only 99 cents in the Apple App Store and works on all of your Apple devices. I’m quite sure there are others out there as well, and commercials are indicating that the new Kindle Fire comes equipped with such parental controls.
Consider the types of things you have for your child to do on the device, as well. Find apps that are developmentally appropriate, that contain no advertising, and that limit access to the internet and social media for your younger children. It’s good to be able to disable those features if they are there. And yes, these sorts of apps do exist! One of my favorite review sites for Ipad apps is Best Apps for Kids, where you will find info about apps for children of all ages. Of course, I have to admit to just a little bit of bias here; I write for the site.