Parenting is hard enough as it is without sifting through mixed messages about kids and technology. From educational television shows to interactive learning apps, technology is an integral part of children’s lives. While there are many benefits to using it – even when your kids are very young – the availability and proliferation of so many options can be both a dream and a nightmare for parents.
It comes down to being smart about managing the technology you use with your children, such as knowing the research behind technology and its effect on kids, what’s appropriate for kids at every age, understanding how technology can help our kids, and when it’s time to put away the devices.
Increased use of screen time has been linked to a growing epidemic of obesity, sleep problems, and other health problems, with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reporting that kids are in front of screens about 7 hours each day.
But technology doesn’t have to hinder your child’s development or physical health. While hours in front of a screen can mean fewer on the playground, there are ways to use technology to introduce and integrate a healthy lifestyle from the very beginning. Cool gadgets like kids’ health trackers and interactive water bottles can incorporate healthy habits while also being a smart early introduction to technology. Gululu’s water bottle makes hydration into a game through a virtual pet that stays healthy as kids drink more water. The Paiband health tracker for kids as young as four awards points for activities and also monitors sleep and heart rate, encouraging an active lifestyle.
Research has found that screen time can lead to slower development in children. When tested on thinking and language skills, children who had two or more hours of screen time each scored lower. Screen time also affects sleep, especially in babies, and those who spend more time in front of a screen are likely to have their sleep interrupted more frequently. Watching programming with your children, or playing games with them, and talking about screen content makes a difference – the greatest impact was shown in children who spend more than an hour a day with screen time without parental interaction. Being aware of when you’re handing your child a screen just to keep them occupied can help ensure screen time stays a learning experience instead of a damaging one.
Streaming entertainment sites have a proliferation of kids’ programming, and parents can check out reviews such as those from Common Sense Media on the best entertainment and educational offerings for kids by age. Parents can see what kinds of TV shows and movies recommended on the services they’re already using, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. They also can search Best Apps, Best Games, Best Websites, and Best Learning for kids.
For kids who like to peruse videos on YouTube, the video platform has been discussing better ways to provide safer content for children. In 2015, a children’s watchdog group discovered problems with the YouTube Kids app, including videos that starred favorite children’s characters but led to violent, disturbing, or inappropriate content. While the platform has been making major changes to protect young viewers, it’s another reason to make screen time a parent-child time, both helping to protect your children and providing another opportunity to spend time together.
Online media content can provide a great opportunity to educate kids on just about any topic, and more school districts know that with many kids already using devices, it’s a smart idea to integrate technology into the learning curriculum. Many schools are recognizing the value of technology, from preparing young learners for a future career – for technology use is growing in every industry, including rapidly-changing careers such as manufacturing – to creating a team-learning, collaborative environment.
Additionally, students with greater tech skills can help teach those students with fewer tech capabilities by looking over their shoulders and helping them navigate apps and other tech. Many schools are even providing iPads or Chromebooks, so kids who would normally have less access to devices at home can have the same opportunity to learn while at school.
Career analysts project double-digit growth in tech-related careers in just the next few years. Mobile app developers, data analysts, and information security specialists especially will see new opportunities growing. The basic use of technology is imperative to building future workers who will be prepared for modern careers, even if they are not directly interested in a career in technology. Even simple computer software is and will continue to be incorporated into daily work activities.
Kids who do show a particular interest in using technology can be encouraged to participate in some of the many programs popping up that are designed to teach kids about coding, programming, cybersecurity, robotics, and more. After-school programs and camps, such as those offered by VEX Robotics and Girls Who Code, can provide your young techies with a healthy and educational outlet for working with technology.
One additional way that parents can use technology in a smart way is to improve peace of mind and safety when it comes to their kids. Parents can use the latest smart home technology, such as smart doorbells, to know who’s coming and going in the house, for example. Smart light bulbs can protect your children’s eyes and sleep patterns by changing the amount of blue light emitted in the evenings. Wearable technology like smart bracelets can pair with your own devices to help keep track of your kids in crowded places.
Smartphone apps can be added to keep track of the locations of all family members. While it might sound intrusive, it eliminates the days of calling around to your child’s friends’ parents to find out where they are – it increases peace of mind and resolves worry with a quick glance of the phone. Using new technology can also help you become more familiar with updated tech, and provide a learning opportunity with your kids – even if you’re the one doing the learning and your kids are the ones doing the teaching.
Making sure technology benefits rather than hurts your kids is simply like any other aspect of parenting – remaining involved and aware are the keys to ensuring the most enriching experience for your kids.
About The Author
This **guest post was written by Morgen Henderson: Morgen lives near the beautiful mountains of Salt Lake City. She loves writing about tech, travel, and sustainability topics. When she’s not typing away at her computer, you can find her baking her favorite desserts and exploring the globe.