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We have all heard of and indeed many of us are Gen X & Gen Y. With the proliferation of iPads, iPhones, iPods, surely our children are “Gen i”. They are born around smartphones and tablets and are truly digital natives. It is of little surprise then, that they easily surpass us in the understanding of and adaptation to technology.
Many a parent is faced with the difficult decision of whether to let kids play with their smart phone or tablet and “how much” is right. I personally feel, if used at the right time and in moderation, it is okay. We have to be real in today's world and accept that technology is re-defining lives. It is important for children to have an aptitude for technology and develop expertise in this life skill which will be crucial later on.
Our 4.5 year old son enjoys his exposure to technology. Along this journey, I have discovered very interesting apps and videos which are both educational and entertaining. I have downloaded apps on my phone to help him develop his cognitive ability like learning the body parts (App name- Parts of the body), puzzles where he needs to drag the missing piece to their right place (App name- ShapePuzzles),colour various geometric shapes following simple instructions (App name- Doodle fill) and so on. He regularly communicates with family members on FaceTime or Skype thereby, making him relate to people he doesn’t always see around. My son is fond of nursery rhymes and like most other children his age, he can independently put on YouTube, videos that interest him. His father and I monitor the content he is watching but we also encourage him to choose what he wants to watch. This provides him an opportunity to think, learn and stimulate his mind in a fun way.
This in no way undermines the importance of reading a book with the child or exploring the outdoors. The parental bond strengthens as we curl up together to read a book. Children also need to physically explore the environment where they can touch and feel things rather than see them on the screen. We should also encourage them to not just interact digitally, but socially with people they have physical access to. All this is an equally essential part of their development. However, gadgets are pervasive and children’s exposure to them is bound to be earlier than when we were growing up. This in no way is undesirable.
The right age for introducing kids to gadgets is upto the parents. We felt in his pre-school years, our son was ready to extract learning out of the screen based devices, in a supervised environment. Before that, the real world experiences and interactions were the key to his development. While that continues to be important, he can now divide his time between various activities. As kids grow up, gadgets can provide an additional learning layer beyond traditional classrooms or books. Technology also helps them apply their knowledge and makes their learning relevant.
While I'm endorsing the use of these products, I strongly believe that they should be used in the right way and we need to strike the right balance. We should limit screen time to say an hour at a time in each sitting, surely not more than two hours a day. At the same time, it's not a good idea to use the gadgets as babysitters. We should try and be involved in the process when they are watching something, providing a "3-d" experience. I will also not encourage using them as a tool for bribery to extract favourable behaviour or to entice children as that sets the wrong precedent.
Whether we can extend the same logic to TV? I am not sure about that. The content on television, even seemingly harmless cartoons, promote violence and aggression which impact a child's behaviour. Excessive TV viewing can contribute to your child’s aggressive behaviour, decreased interest in reading and school activities, lesser personal interaction with people and poorer health and habits. On television, it is harder for us to separate the good from the bad and to restrict viewing.
Ultimately, we have to set the right example in front of them by limiting our own screen time in their presence. Only then can we expect them to balance it out. This approach has worked well for us so far. Our child enjoys his screen time and regularly chooses educational and other entertaining activities on it. At the same time, he is neither addicted nor starved of access to these gadgets.
I would love to hear your views and personal experiences on this.
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