I don’t need Silicon Valley parent’s to tell me how much screen time my kids need.
There’s a fear amongst parents when it comes to technology…screens, social media, mobile apps…you name it and there’s a reason why we should never let our kids anywhere near it.
It’s grown faster than anything we’ve ever known before and most of us haven’t managed to keep up.
Technology is to blame for pretty much every single issue we have in modern society. Rumour has it that we humans discovered violence right after the first games console was created.
There are people who believe that technology is evil and won’t allow a screen near their child.
There are those who allow their kids free-reign of devices and apps with no parental involvement at all.
AND finally there are the less frequently talked about majority that sit somewhere in the middle.
They’re generally the ones that get freaked out by articles like this one about Silicone Valley parents that was published by The Times.
Annoyingly, it’s been shared tonnes but actually offers no real information to confused parents.
It’s no more than a collection of quotes from Silicone Valley parents who sound a lot like average parents to me.
They’re just concerned and hoping that they’re getting it right…like the rest of us. None of them even go as far as banning technology.
Chris Anderson, (former editor of Wired and now the chief executive of a robotics and drone company. He is also the founder of GeekDad.com) is quoted as saying…
“On the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s (screens) closer to crack cocaine. This is beyond our power to control. This is going straight to the pleasure centres of the developing brain. This is beyond our capacity as regular parents to understand.”
Yet, despite believing that screens are closer to cocaine than candy he still allows his kids to use them and allows them on social media from age 13.
So he’d let his teenager take crack cocaine?!
It makes no sense.
It’s just scare-mongering nonsense that helps no-one.
At the end of the day parents will decide how they want to deal with screens in their house.
To make these decisions properly parent’s need facts. Articles that use bold mis-leading headlines and assume that all parents are idiots don’t help to make these decisions easy.
Promoting either extreme only furthers the divide between parents on both sides and doesn’t actually help those of us left in the middle to decide what’s really best for our kids.
What all of this advice fails to acknowledge is that parents aren’t all idiots. Setting parents unrealistic expectations is more likely to hinder rather than help their parenting.
Technology is a part of all of our lives now. It’s not going anywhere.
The only way that we can truly protect our children from the dangers of technology is to be a part of their tecnological journey from the beginning. To enjoy technology together early on.
Why we let our babies watch TV…
Let’s kick off with this one!
Hands up if you allowed your baby to watch TV?
When I was a new mum I admit to feeling confused about the ‘no TV before age 2 rule advised by the American Association of Pediatrics.
I’d been fed this idea that TV would somehow damage my son. That his brain would somehow implode due to too much simulation.
However when I looked into why parents were being told this I found very little that was referring to technology actually being bad for young children.
The problem lies not only with what toddlers are doing while they’re watching TV; it’s what they aren’t doing.
Yes I let my babies watch screens. They absolutely loved Baby Einstein and Tractor Ted. Linguistically they are both way above average as is their attention span.
The issue isn’t that TV itself is bad for kids but that some parents might use TV too much to distract their baby.
Most parents are capable of interacting with their baby and allowing them to watch a little TV.
Why our Toddlers Have Tablets
Apparently, 86% of 3-4 year olds use a tablet. Our boys both have one although the youngest only really uses it to watch the odd Tractor Ted on a long journey.
If you choose the right tablet and the right apps they are a great way of safely introducing kids to technology. They are also hugely educational. I literally have no idea how people can dispute this.
Just the other day my son was asking me about what animals lived in Antarctica. Instead of guessing a few and moving on I’d found a kids video within 10 seconds he watched all 15 minutes of it. He then proceeded to tell us all about the Chinstrap Penguins, Elephant Seals and Blue Whales.
Our boys are educated by us so this a part of how their learning happens…organically.
They don’t need to sit in front of a text-book or be talked at by a teacher. Children literally have the answers at their fingertips if they are taught how to use technology correctly.
Of course we love books too and real experiences (that’s why we’re world schooling).
But, tablets can be great educational tools if you choose one carefully.
How to choose a tablet for a toddler:
- Select your device and/or settings carefully. Tablets are a good choice for kids because their small touch screens are easy to use. Use a Fire Kids Edition Tablet or set strict parental controls (Google your specific device or refer to your user’s manual to find out how to do this).
- Password protect your logins and don’t enter passwords in front of your kids.
- Turn off instant purchases so that content can’t be purchased accidentally.
- Check all content for suitability (apps, videos etc) before downloading.
- Sit with your child while they play and learn. Talk to them about what they’re doing.
- Don’t allow Youtube on their accessible apps.
- Give them a little space sometimes…you need to know what they’re doing but you don’t need to peer over their shoulder the entire time.
- Some nice apps to get you started are listed here at Mother and Baby. I’d also include Animal Sounds and Nighty Night (both of these are available in several languages so are great for multi-lingual kids).
Annoying YouTube Videos!
OMG I’m not an angry person but sit me next to a child with youtube on their tablet and that changes…fast.
I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to set time limits when it comes to technology but I do think that as parents we have a duty to decide what content is appropriate for our children. For me, youtube and youtube kids fall into the not suitable (yet) category.
What began as innocently watching tractor videos became watching spiderman driving tractor videos until finally morphing into those stupid toy egg, unwrapping, screechy, obnoxious amateur trash that has no purpose other than annoying parents and turning brains to mush.
My son can play his writing app as long as he likes (he could maybe last an hour) before joining me for a different activity.
However, give him access to youtube and he would sit all day. Clicking like a zombie child. Even waving a Cornetto in front of his face would have no effect.
That’s when we knew that youtube was gone. It’s not that we don’t love it for educational purposes but there is just too much unsuitable, addictive rubbish for a young child to be in control of. That’s where the Fire Kids Edition Tablet is great as everyone has separate profiles with their own individual apps.
Let’s be clear though, the fact that some websites and applications are unsuitable doesn’t mean that technology is the problem.
Yes we can use it badly. Yes it can influence us in negative ways.
As parents we must maintain an open-dialogue with our kids about what they like to do online. We do this by connecting with them, by enjoying technology together and by always being there when they need to talk.
Technology Guidelines for Kids and Teenagers
Much of this information is taken from the guidance I offered schools and parents when I worked in Health Promotion in the School setting.
Consistency and fairness are so important when children start to challenge the rules we set. When they start pushing for apps or games that we think are unsuitable we talk to them about it.
For younger kids, use parental controls to restrict Google (and YouTube). Google ‘cowgirl’ and see what comes up on the first page if you don’t believe me!
Balance is important so make sure that time on devices isn’t replacing time spent doing other hobbies.
Make it very clear that you’re there to talk about anything they see online that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Use the Internet for research and learning. This is also an opportunity to talk to them about questioning information and deciding whether it’s from a reliable source. This Guide from the BBC may be helpful Should I Trust Everything I Read Online BBC Guide. These fake websites are great for demonstrating how false information can be made to look real: All About Explorers, Flying Penguins BBC, Tree Octopus.
Set up a social media account together. Check that all security settings are set to ‘private’. You can read the rules of various social media sites here.
Learn together about how you can report posts and content that isn’t allowed. You can report to social media sites directly or through CEOP.
Talk about online etiquette. How we interact with people. How we’re viewed by others. This generation will have their entire life story captured forever online…for everyone to see (if their settings aren’t secure).
Apps to be aware of are listed here. Some are designed to hide photos and videos, others are designed to bully or have inappropriate conversions. You want to know how to spot them on your teens phone!
Read up on the law together. Despite sex being legal at 16 years old, it is illegal to take, store or share images of anyone under the age of 18. Even images meant to disappear in seconds on Snapchat can be screenshot and sent on. Be open and honest with your young adults. Cyber Crimes such as online blackmailing and hacking are also taken extremely seriously.
The Think You Know website for 14+ has loads of great videos and articles about various issues like digital dating, sharing pictures, making inappropriate comments on social media. Take a look at them with your young adults.
How do you feel about technology? Is it something to be embraced or to avoid for as long as possible?