Technology is permeating our lives. In the advent of wearable technologies, mobile payment and banking systems, driverless cars, drone delivery, and the like, technology is becoming more and more unavoidable. Technology jobs are among the most available and highest paying, if that’s an indicator of where our economy is going.
But, like every generation, we have questions about technology and parenting. Just like the introduction of television fifty years ago, video games thirty years ago, and personal computers twenty years ago: What is appropriate to allow in your household? How should we use it? Ultimately, what’s best for my children?
This is a good one. Initially, I want to do it how my parents did it: No cell phone until you can pay for it yourself. Even then, there will be limits.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work anymore. If you are a part of my generation (or older) then you grew up in a world where pay phones existed everywhere. Now, well – not so much. Also, you have the social stigma since practically EVERY kid is going to have a cell phone at some point. So, when and how is a cell phone appropriate for my kids?
Most of the experts are agreeing that middle school is now the age to start getting cell phones for our kids. 85% of teens 14-17 have a cell phone; and, 69% aged 11-14 have a cell phone. That percentage goes down to 31% for those aged 8-10 (WebMD, Kaiser Family Foundation). Another study says that the majority of kids get their first cell phone at age six (ABC7, Child Guide Magazine). As mentioned above, getting phones at middle school age is a great idea for social as well as safety reasons.
But, we have to combat some of the major problems with giving our children cell phones. The most important to me is sleep (or lack thereof). Studies show that 42% of teens who leave their phone at their bedside will stay up later and wake up throughout the night to check their phone (WebMD). Not to mention – what are they doing on their phone when we aren’t checking on them? The best remedy for this that I found was: require your child to turn in their phones at bed time. Some best practices include placing them on a charger overnight in the living room or even your bed room. If you want to get really crazy, you can use features like Find My iPhone to lock the phone overnight in case they want to get sneaky.
Next problem is texting and driving. Studies show that texting is the MOST distracting thing you can do while driving. Just talking on the phone (hands-free or not) is shown to affect drivers just as much as drinking alcohol. 28% of all traffic accidents are caused by a driver texting or calling. Research is showing that the #1 solution for this is simple – lead by example. Teens are overconfident as it is, they don’t need that extra subconscious motivation from us to think that they are invincible. Start this habit early so they grow up seeing you drive safe. Start the conversations about safe driving early as well. Studies show that this will establish their “norms” (or, basis for reality) as they grow up.
Lastly, I’ve seen a lot of articles where parents like having the cell phone because they can take it away as a very effective form of punishment. And, before you buy a phone – take the time to make yourself aware of how it works and all the safety/accessibility features available to it. There are a lot of options to restrict what your teen can and can’t do. Depending upon the maturity of your child, you may want to take advantage of many of these restrictions.
Many parents are involving tablets early in their child’s development. Ashley and I have always had at least one iPad in the house. And, many parents are using tablets (like the Kindle Fire, Nabi, iPad) or other devices like the iPod Touch to provide a halfway option for children who may not be ready for a fully-functional phone.
For our toddlers, it’s looking like an iPad is okay. If used in moderation (less than 1 hour total per day) current studies are showing that, in general, this will neither help nor hurt them in any way. And, good news – as you’ve probably noticed, these things come in very handy at the doctor’s office or when trying to whip together a nice dinner real quick. So, if you have any guilt about excessive screen-time or anything: you can let it go. Just remember moderation. Going over an hour or so in a day can really impact their social development as well as their impression of reality.
More good news! Studies, like one from the Archives of Disease in Childhood, are showing that using age-appropriate interactive games for our tots will help them develop reading, writing, and counting skills earlier. I have seen this first-hand with puzzle-solving and organizational skills, as these are the games my kids gravitate towards.
Some guidelines for iPads with our toddlers:
- Don’t let them use it more than an hour a day
- Don’t let it crowd out other activity, like free-play or interaction with other children
- DO let it take the place of TV – studies show that, since it is interactive (unlike TV) using a tablet with not have the adverse behavioral and social effects that excessive TV does
- Lead by example. Obviously, there are other consequences to being on a tablet or computer all day, but in this context you certainly want your child to see that there is more to life than being buried into a screen all day
For our older kids (pre-teens and beyond) the guidelines are similar. While their brains aren’t growing in the same way as toddlers, it is still crucial to keep their social development headed in the right direction. Always favor activities that use the imagination and real social interaction. Monitor their online social behavior – cyber bullying is real, and will have an effect on his or her development.
Of course, there are countless forms of other technologies that might be a part of our household. The same general rules apply:
- Use in moderation
- Lead by example – Use responsibly and for their intended purpose
- Don’t favor independent activities over social or group interaction
All these technologies are going to continue to be more and more integrated into our lives. It is definitely a good thing to familiarize ourselves and our children with them. The key is to do it in a responsible, constructive way.