When Fisher Price introduced its iPad Baby Bouncy Seat late last year, many parents (and concerned citizens like myself) wondered, have we gone too far? But not long before companies were dangling iPads above babies' heads, parents were creating twitter handles for their newborns and 10-year-olds were posting "duck-face" selfies on Instagram. With all of this digital-age craziness going on, how does a parent know where to draw the line?
Earlier this week, New York Public Radio rounded up a panel of experts for a program called Parenting in the Digital Age in hopes of advising confused parents on what's acceptable when it comes to mixing kids and technology. Read on for their advice for your family.
For babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. "There's no evidence that screen time is helpful for babies," says Dr. Susan Linn, the co-founder of The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which has challenged companies like Disney for their "educational" Baby Einstein videos and Fisher Price for the iPad Bouncy Seat. Linn says kids under three should avoid all screen time and for children aged three to five, it's best to stay below the two hour limit suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
At the same time, Joel Levin, the founder of MinecraftEdu, a games-based education nonprofit and father of two girls under nine, thinks that technology can be valuable to kids. His oldest daughter started playing games on the computer when she was five. "When I played with my daughter, I was amazed with the thought processes she had. She learned to spell her first word using the game," he says. However, he adds, it's important that you don't turn technology into a babysitter and, although it can be difficult, don't use it as a crutch when the kids are bored or fussy.
For elementary school kids and tweens. Wendy Kelly, a third grade teacher at the low-tech Rudolf Steiner School in New York City, recommends the same rules that her school enforces: no technology before fourth grade. Kelly admits that this can be a challenge but suggests that parents talk their child's friends about setting the same screen time boundaries. "What one child does has an effect on everyone so we ask parents to encourage crafts and books instead of movies, television, and video games." Whether you introduce your kids to technology in kindergarten or wait until fourth grade like Kelly, all the panelists agreed that you have to monitor the content kids are consuming. "If you feel your kid is watching something that is inappropriate, turn it into a teachable moment and have a discussion about why she shouldn't be watching it before you take it away," says Levin. He also says it's helpful to watch your kids play with their devices to find out why they're drawn to certain games so you can encourage those certain skills when screen time is over. Lastly, try to carve out time for your kids with your family outside of screen time. It's just as important as setting a time limit for technology, says Linn.
No matter how strict your screen time policy, one thing that is for certain: is that kids are around surrounded by more technology than ever before. It's up to parents to make sure they instill the values and self-control needed to navigate the new digital world.
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