We live in an exciting time. I mean, I guess you could say that about any time ever. But really, now is a really neat time to be a kid. Technology is growing at a rapid pace, and our children will be the beneficiaries of a native technological literacy that we could only dream of. While I struggle with taking selfies on my phone and learning the next best social media program, my kids will be whizzing around at the speed of light, creating and communicating as fast as their little synapses can fire.
One of the best devices we have right now to get some juicy tech into their sticky little fingers is the tablet. But for those of us who grew up with the TV as the main electronic in the house, tablet territory is a bit like the wild west. What are the dangers of tablets, and what should our rules be? What are the consequences for over- or under-exposing kids to tablet tech?
Your family is unique, and hard and fast rules that work for the neighbor’s kids may not work for yours. Regardless of how you decide to manage kids’ tablet use, here are 5 important things to consider:
Decide How Young is Too Young
This is the first question I personally need to consider as I get ready to have my own kid. I know she won’t be old enough to hold her own tablet for awhile, but what about just exposure to screens? It worries me.
You can buy this nice little multitasking device over on Amazon.
As it turns out, the overwhelming professional opinion regarding toddler use of iPads and other tablets is that when monitored and controlled, it helps kids build important tech skills without hindering growth in other areas. That said, it’s usually recommended parents wait until preschool to introduce tablets to kids.
As with everything else, appropriate parent control and involvement is important. What you feel is right is probably right, and you know your kid and your family best.
Research Which Tablet to Buy
You have a lot of choices these days when it comes to which tablet to buy. It’s pretty likely that someone in your household has one, and if that’s the case, it’s more than likely that you let your kids play with it. If you’re in the market for a tablet, it’ll be helpful to find one that’s good for sharing.
The Amazon Kindle Fire HD is a great choice, since it’s affordable and offers an easily accessible and programmable kids- only area with a kid-friendly UI and limited internet use. It’s a neat little gadget for everyone.
If you’re not so much into sharing, consider getting a just-for-kids tablet. The Leapfrog line is tried and true, but you could also go for something like the Fuhu Nabi 2, which has a cool feature where kids can trade household chores for apps at the app store.
Consider When to Connect
There are plenty of choices when it comes to allowing the device in your kids’ hands access to the big bad web. If you’d like to land somewhere in between all or nothing, you can download any number of Net Nanny type apps that install parental controls with monitoring reports and set time limits. Want devices to always be offline at dinner time? Want to limit online time to one hour per day? Easy, just hit up the download store. The hard part is deciding what’s right for your kids.
The consensus seems to be that allowing kids to access the Internet around age 8 is about right, but you may decide that a few years earlier or later than that is more appropriate. If a child is able to truly understand the dangers of the Internet (with the bonus of knowing how to avoid getting malware), they’re probably old enough to use it.
Set Rules and Boundaries for Device Use
Downloading a good parental control app is step one. But how should the device’s capabilities and your child’s access to it be limited?
Consider how much face time your family wants to have with each other, and your kids’ penchant toward addictive behavior. If they have a hard time setting it down, they’re probably using it too much.
Also consider the balance you’d like between tech play and creative play. How much time should they be spending with manipulative toys and outside activity? Is the device eating away at time that should be spent reading paper books?
The longer you let an unhealthy dependance go unchecked the harder it will be in the long run to regain ground on the things that matter most.
On the flip side, electronics can be a helpful motivator. As a teacher, I’ve seen many parents skillfully use a kid’s tablet or cell phone as a reward for good behavior or its removal used as a powerful consequence. Being grounded isn’t quite what it used to be, since kids value Facebook-type interactions almost as much as hanging out with their friends. Grounding a kid from the Internet (or their device) can be a seriously effective punishment.
Identifying When Enough is Enough
As mentioned, if your kid has trouble setting down the tablet, they’re probably using it too much. Other signs that kids are getting too much screen time include symptoms like disinterest in other activities, moodiness, constantly talking about technology and lying about their use of the device.