How often do many of us ponder the thought “how much should I let my kid play video games, the tablet or cell phone, etc.? Technology is all around us whether we like it or not, and our kids are just picking up on the things that we constantly use. In our household it has become a constant discussion between my wife and I on how much should we let our kid be on his Kindle Fire. The rationale for him using it can cover the full spectrum of “their educational games” to “I just don’t like a screen in his face all the time”. “Will he become less social if he is constantly playing games?” These statements pop up at our house all the time and to be honest with you, we don’t have good answers for them. It’s not like there is a book for the 21st century on how to raise a kid with technology. Both my wife and I don’t really ever disagree on how we handle it with him, but together we go back and forth on how much is too much.
Like I mentioned in the previous blog Staying Safe-Preparation is the Key, we are a family that researches and plans. So, we obviously grabbed our own technology (iPhones of course!) and started looking at what information is out there. Surely by now there are some good statistics on how technology is affecting our younger generation. I wasn’t disappointed by the amount of information that is out there. The difficult part is narrowing it down to a digestible amount. In an article by Kid’s Matter titled Kids Online: The statistics written by Rosalie O’Neale, she throws up some pretty staggering numbers. The article was published in Australia, so the numbers are not of American kids, but I bet they aren’t far off. Ninety five percent of 8 to 11-year old’s have been on the internet in the past four weeks. Typically kids in this age group are using multiple devices to get online, with up to three for a 10 to 11-year-old. The most shocking stat to me is that forty-five percent of this age group are using social media! The article then proceeds to discuss that the majority of the time personal data isn’t discussed online, but that kids have shared their full name, phone number, a photo of themselves, name of their school, date of birth, and home address. That’s really scary! My thought process is that even though kids don’t mean any harm when share this type of information, their brains aren’t developed enough to be able to show restraint. In my profession, I see over it and over again times in which students share inappropriate photos and say things that are hurtful that they don’t mean. They just don’t understand the consequences for doing it though.
As you’re still digesting the information in the previous paragraph, I was recently thinking back to when my son was three and four years old. It’s amazing how much he was always grabbing my wife’s or my cell phone. Keeping our phones out of his hands seemed as difficult a task as any that we might have for the day. Every time we turned around, if a phone was left out, he was grabbing it. It was a losing battle as he continues to get older, because we live on our phone due to work. So instead of trying to swim upstream, why not embrace the issue and use it to your advantage.
Common Sense Media has a list of the best educational apps for 5 to 8-year old’s. They range from STEM themed games to learning algebra (yes algebra at 5 years old! Now we’re talking education!!). They also have handwriting and movement games to get kids off the couch. It really is impressive with everything that’s out there. If you’re able to divert their attention to something that’s educational, then it really can be a win-win and not feel like you are setting yourself up for failure. Even better is a company called Net Nanny, they have developed software that can be installed on any computer or handheld device that monitors what sites your kids can visit. It also tracks the time spent on the devices and will prevent them from playing on it once the preset time has been met. It takes all the frustration out of your hands and automatizes it! As amazing as this is, it is a paid service. For a free version that is already available on iPhones and iPads, igamemom has listed easy steps for setting us ways to allow your child to only use the app that you have preapproved and set the time limit of your choice for being on it. After the time limit expires, the screen simply goes blank. Not as easy as the Net Nanny, but definitely a good alternative.
Technology is not going away, but there are some amazing apps that parents and kids can use to put the control back in the adult’s hands. Those resources seem to keep expanding as well. I may not have an answer for you on how much online time is too much, (I’m still looking for the instructional book on how to raise kids!) but having options when it comes to devices is always a great back-up!