Yet, the deep-rooted fear that exposing children to such devices too early on will inhibit them from experiencing a wholesome childhood filled with tree-climbing, face-painting and bug-squashing stays on. Said Christina Lee, mother of a three-month-old girl: “My friend lets her son use her tablet whenever he wants and now it’s all he wants to play with. I know the iPad can be educational, but I don’t want my daughter to get hooked on it even before she starts walking and exploring her surroundings.”
And therein lies the million-dollar question: When is the right time to introduce your kids to a smartphone or tablet? And beyond that, how do we make sure that they don’t end up forsaking other forms of playtime?
The formative years
Much has been said about the first three years of a child’s life and how it is integral to cognitive development. Parents are often encouraged to expose their kids to a variety of stimuli to trigger curiosity and foster creative initiative through active play.
In view of this, some early childhood experts are of the opinion that parents should wait until their kids are of preschool-going age before giving them access to technological devices.
For children below the age of 2, cognitive development should ideally be triggered by the engagement of their 5 senses – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. As such, bodily movement and exploration of the physical world would be more beneficial than being absorbed in the 2D world of virtual reality, where sensory stimuli are extremely limited.
From age three onwards, however, parents may start to introduce their children to educational programmes on their tech devices. Many such resources employ learning mechanisms like the repetition of words, pictures and sounds, which are more suited to the learning phase of a slightly older child.
At the same time, do take note that the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that – even for children over two years old – more than two hours of daily screen time (including TV) could stunt cognitive growth. It’s all about balanced exposure, so make the effort to help your child strike a healthy balance between quality tech time and outdoorsy play from the very start.
Complementing what your child sees in virtual reality with real-world examples is also a good learning mechanism. If Junior likes learning about farm animals through an iPad app, for example, you could bring him to the zoo to see (and smell) a real-life stinky goat afterwards.
Things to keep in mind
Complement what they are learning in active play
Look out for educational apps that are on par with their development. For example, if your kids are beginning to pick up words, phonetic games may be helpful in boosting their progress.
Be involved as much as possible
Share your kids’ experiences by bonding with them over their favourite apps. Being there to supervise your kids’ screen time also reduces the likelihood of them chancing upon inappropriate online content.
Instead of leaving the iPad out with all the other toys, keep it to yourself and offer it to Junior only during certain times of the day. Be firm in telling them ‘no’ when they want to use the iPad for longer than they should. In that vein, it may be advisable to grant access to tech gadgets only when your kids are more capable of following rules and restrictions.
Don’t let your iPad become a digital babysitter
Though it may be tempting to keep the kids occupied with the iPad whilst you attend to your never-ending chores or grocery-shop, you may be setting the stage for their over-dependence on the device in the long run.
Lead by example
In their formative years, kids are especially inclined to mimic their parents’ behaviour. If you’re worried about your children becoming tech-addicts, make sure that you are not constantly engaged with your smartphone or tablet as well.
As technology becomes increasingly indispensable in our everyday lives, the question of whether to introduce kids to these devices is now just a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘why’. While finding the right age to get them started is definitely important, guiding your child to form healthy tech-engagement habits is crucial as well. Good luck!