It is increasingly common to see children, even toddlers, playing with smartphones and tablets. Today, it is clear that the generation of so-called “digital natives'' is surrounded and influenced by technology. Ever since their birth, they have been immersed and bombarded by multimedia stimuli.
These electronic devices have become an integral part of society, and it is but a matter of time for your child to say: "... all my friends have one". Many times, children want a smartphone so badly that parents don’t know how to address the situation. On one hand, they would like to please their child, but on the other, they wonder if it is the appropriate moment to buy one. What is certain is that parental supervision is advised.
What are the consequences of children having a smartphone or tablet? Does it impair child development? What is the judicious approach? If these questions are looming over your mind, this article may just be the answer you were looking for.
Do smartphones and tablets harm a child's development?
Smartphones and tablets can harm a child’s development if parental supervision does not establish reasonable directives or if parental controls are not employed. Elementary school children with extended screen time were more prone to conduct problems, hyperactivity, and inattention in a 2018 study on the matter (source).
The Internet is a vast place that has its dark corners. Electronic devices can facilitate access to websites with inappropriate content, such as pornography, harmful language, gore, and may confuse children on important topics. Furthermore, the fact that children speak very often through chat does not allow them to fully understand the emotional needs of the other, since there is no face-to-face exchange. In this sense, physical contact and in-person interactions are reduced, when it is very important for the development of a child.
The self-esteem of your child may also be distorted by an online presence. Unfortunately, children mistakenly assume that the more "likes" they have, the greater the acceptance they have. That is, their self-esteem may depend on the likes, comments, or followers they have. This race for the most online attention can become a veritable source of stress and mimetic can alter their personality for the worst.
To avoid these problems, parents should become familiar with the parental control parameters of their electronic devices. Smartphones, tablets, and computers are certainly not to be demonized, but education in their use is indispensable. Just as parents teach their children to cross the street correctly, today they must also teach them to surf the Internet and use technology safely.
What is the perfect age to start using a smartphone or tablet?
There is no perfect age as such to start using a smartphone or tablet for children. Parents choose when these gadgets have a legitimate reason to find themselves in the hands of their little ones. There are educational tablets for kids and activities that can intellectually challenge your preschool age, young children.
Before handing over your smartphone to your child, you need to consider the potential dangers that are related to the dysfunctional use of electronic devices. However, today people carry their smartphones from one place to another, surf the Internet, use applications and communicate from an early age. The current average age to give a child a personal phone or tablet is 9 years old.
This age does not apply to all children, as a certain level of maturity must be reached. Regardless of how old your child may be, they must understand that on the other side of the screen there can be anyone, even malicious people. They have to know how to protect themselves from possible attacks or offenses in a chat or on a web page, even from their friends.
It is highly recommended to give children a time limit to use gadgets. This can be done with the parental controls that come with most electronic devices and platforms on the market. Screen time abuse in young children can quickly become a problem for the whole household. Performance in class can be affected, and they can even develop an addiction to the use of mobile phones or tablets.
Realistically, fighting technology or banning it doesn't make much sense. If they don't have a phone, they will use the ones of others. If they sense a strong opposition to technology, it may just backfire and make them even more fanatic of electronic devices. Therefore, the most advisable thing is to give them correct teaching on the proper use of these devices.
The attitude of parents that don't want to learn social network culture is remarkably misguided because they will fail to understand their children’s environment. Knowing and learning about the Internet and social media are fundamental steps for the prevention and control of correct technology use during childhood.
The problem is not the tool itself, but the use made of it. Distorted use depends on education and not on the technology itself, and this is demonstrated by the fact that many adolescents use it appropriately and consciously.
Tips to determine when to introduce your child to a smartphone or tablet
The tips to determine when to introduce your child to a smartphone or tablet depend on children age:
- Children under 2 years
- Children aged from 2 to 5 years
- School age children
As we have seen, technology can affect child development, learning, thinking, and behavior during the most adaptive period of their lives. So, what can you do? As children grow and understand, try to share these rules with your children so that they can become self-aware of their relationship with technology. The American Academy of Pediatrics has shared some guidelines to help parents use electronic devices properly in their homes.
Children Under 2 Years
The use of digital devices should be very limited and can only be used in the company of an adult who can speak and explain what they see. For example, a smart use might be to make a video call with a distant relative who wants to interact with the child.
If you want your child to become familiar with electronic devices between 18 and 24 months, you must take this into account:
- Choose high-quality applications or videos for children and be always present, using the smartphone or educational tablet for kids.
- Do not allow toddlers to use the devices by themselves.
Children ages 2 to 5 years
- Limit use to no more than one hour per day.
- Encourage other activities that are beneficial for the physical and mental health of children, such as outdoor games, sports, music, and reading with parents.
- Choose nonviolent interactive applications that propose actions that can be shared socially.
- Watch the videos or use the apps together, play with your child, and discuss and comment on the content of the video or game.
- Set a maximum time for daily use.
- Create rules with your kids collaboratively and explain why it is important to respect these rules.
Use a school planner
If children learn to put their smartphones or tablets to good use, the benefits they can enjoy are vast. Studyo’s school planner includes features like progress tracking, customizable layouts, and step-by-step task breakdowns, making it easy to stay organized and plan out schoolwork. With Studyo, students can come to every class prepared to learn. Making your children understand that technology can be a tool rather than just a source of entertainment is invaluable.
Four Additional Tips for Parents
- Don't feel compelled to introduce technology into children's lives at an early age. Most digital interfaces are intuitive and your kids won't be left behind. They will learn very quickly the moment they start using them.
- Turn off your TV or computer and leave your phone in silent mode (and out of sight) when you are not using it. The background presence of an electronic device that is still working, even though it is not being used, can disturb the child-parent relationship and interaction, which is very important for the development of language and social-emotional skills.
- Avoid using electronic devices one hour before bed time.
- Avoid using smartphones as a soothing mechanism. They can occasionally be used for this purpose (during a visit to the dentist or an airplane trip) but using them continually as a resource to calm the child can lead to dependence.