Tips To Handle The Use Of Technology With Young Children

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The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) has recently updated its media use guidelines for young children. The new AAP recommendations suggest that the domain of technology can be thought of as another environment in which children learn, interact, and experience life.

Just as the way other environments such as school and the quality of a child’s community can produce positive or negative effects, so can technology exposure. A child’s developmental outcome is largely dependent on the caregiver’s involvement, the developmental appropriateness of the content, and the context in which it is used [1]. Because technology is more affordable, accessible, and relevant now compared to any other time in our history, caregivers should be informed of potential concerns as well as best practices to make the most of it around their families.

A few considerations for using and monitoring technology with children:
  • Consider the child’s age, maturity level, and interests to determine if certain technology content will be appropriate or not [2]. Some questions to keep in mind: Will my child enjoy this? Will my child learn something from this? Will this overstimulate my child? Consider the child’s characteristics in order to make deliberate choices around their use of technology.
  • The light projected by electronic devices can affect the production of melatonin in the body and may alter the sleep-wake cycle [3]. For this reason, and because often media content is over-stimulating for children [4], it is a good idea to limit the exposure to technology in the evening close to bedtime.
  • Establish family rules for the use of technology. Heavy parent use of mobile devices and background television is associated to fewer family interactions and less play in children [5]. So it may be helpful to set rules that keep some times screen-free, such as when the family gathers to share a meal or when children are playing. It’s also important to decide ahead: when are children allowed to watch TV or use videogames, for how long, and in what context. Once the rules are decided, they should be shared with all members of the family and enforced by all caregivers to keep the rules as consistent as possible.
  • Caregivers should screen the material and content of the media outlets their children intend to use, keeping in mind that some media sources may contain unwanted advertisement and sexual or violent content.
  • Don’t use technology to calm children down. It may be ok to use technology to help children stay still during a flight or at a doctor’s appointment. But it shouldn’t be the primary resource to keep children calm. It’s important for their emotional development to progressively learn how to regulate emotions and behaviors on their own.
How can you make the most of screen time for you and your children?
  • Use technology in the context of human interaction. Parents can use the time children watch TV to cuddle, rest and enjoy the down time with each them and with each other. Also, while watching TV, caregivers can ask open, reflective questions about the story or characters.
  • Use the device to see pictures of family and friends or to stay in touch with relatives who may be abroad.
  • Caregivers can play music through technology in effort to encourage physical activity through singing and dancing. This has the added benefit of creating family memories while singing and dancing together.
  • Look for interactive media such as simple e-books or audiobooks. Search for videos on educational topics that interest kids, such as cooking, animals, space, construction, or download educational apps.

Finally, remember that children need loving interactions, unstructured and unsupervised activities, imaginative play, and space to create and learn [6]. Balance your child’s technology exposure with plenty of:

  • Warm, face-to-face interactions.
  • Time outdoors
  • Art activities
  • Reading together, playing with blocks, puzzles or other activities the child enjoys.
Notes:

[1] Council on Communications and Media, American Association of Pediatrics. (2016). Policy statement: Media and young minds. Pediatrics, 138 (5), 1-6. Retrieved fromhttp://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/138/5/e20162591.full.pdf

[2] National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College. (2012). Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8. Retrieved from NAEYC website:http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/PS_technology_WEB.pdf

[3] Salti, R., Tarquini, R., Stagi, S., Perfetto, F., Conélissen, G., Laffi, G., Mazzoccoli, G., & Halberg, F. (2006). Age-dependent association of exposure to television screen with children’s urinary melatonin excretion?. Neuro Endocrinology Letters, 27 (1-2), 73–80. Retrieved from file:///Users/paulibarahona/Downloads/Age-dependent_association_of_exposure_to_televisio.pdf.

[4] Garrison, M.M., Liekweg, K., & Christakis, D.A. (2011). Media use and child sleep: the impact of content, timing, and environment. Pediatrics, 128 (1), 29–35. doi:10.1542/peds.2010-333

[5] Schmidt, M. E., Pempek, T. A., Kirkorian, H. L., Lund, A. F., & Anderson, D. R. (2008). The effects of background television on the toy play behavior of very young children. Child Development, (4). 1137–1151. Retrieved from http://media01.couriermail.com.au/multimedia/headstart/2009/i-Kids-0902/schmidt-et-al-2008.pdf

[6] Brown, A., Shifrin, D. L., & Hill, D. L. (2015, October). Beyond ‘turn it off’: How to advise families on media use. American Association of Pediatrics News, 36(10). Retrieved from http://preschool.uen.org/docs/AAPNews-2015-Brown-54.pdf

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