Technology is an integral part of modern life. You can’t prevent children from encountering it at some point, but you can manage access on a daily basis. After all, you don’t want them growing to depend on their screens and becoming addicted to them. Follow these tips to introduce your children to technology in a healthy way.
1. Utilize Kid-Friendly Devices and Modes
While you may not want your child to have their own device just yet, it’s good to know there are secure options available. Many standard devices have child-safe modes designed for young users that can be switched on or off at any time. For example, you can use Guided Access to enable kids mode on your iPad with a passcode and some clicks. When your child is finished using your tablet, you can switch it right off again.
Alternatively, you could buy them their own device specifically created to keep children safe. Companies like Troomi sell kids phones with customizable child safeguards built right in. It’s up to you to decide how to configure the phone’s capabilities, but such devices are great for keeping in touch.
2. Educate Them About Online Resources
When your child begins (or asks to begin) using the internet, provide them with a good, healthy foundation of knowledge. What websites can help them learn more about topics like science and literature, and how can they use them effectively?
Introduce them to National Geographic Kids, where they can explore the world and meet the animals that populate it. If they’d rather hang with their sports heroes, direct them to Sports Illustrated Kids. When they want to learn something specific, show them how they can find it safely (using advanced search tools, safe websites, etc.). Initiating this training early can make their internet usage more effective and leave them less vulnerable to harmful content.
3. Set Firm Boundaries and Explain Them
As a parent, you’ll need to set rules that your child won’t want to follow. It’s important to stand your ground and make sure they understand how serious good habits are. Still, make the effort to explain your rules to them rather than laying them down without telling them the reason. Children have minds just like you, and they’re more likely to follow guidelines with a stronger understanding of them.
For example, if they are only allowed to watch television for 30 minutes after school, explain why. Tell them how active play benefits them after they’ve been sitting for hours during school. Acknowledge that TV offers a fun brain break but that too much screen time can tire their eyes and inhibit good sleep. When they understand your motives, they’ll be more likely to follow your rules.
4. Wait a Few Years Before Allowing Screens
Early introduction of screens into a child’s life can make it harder for them to learn from the surrounding world. The look and feel of content geared toward children is engineered to draw them in, and it will do so. Introducing it within a few years of birth establishes this content as a resource and a necessity. Instead of seeing technology as a benefit, a child might develop the feeling that time without it is a deficit.
Research on the relationship between technology and children’s health shows that excessive screen time can contribute to maladies ranging from early myopia to depression. Not that technology in the home is a wholly bad thing. Children will grow up to be adults who need to use digital tools in their life and work. Introducing tech strategically can set a healthy foundation for the child’s relationship with it in the future.
5. When You Do Introduce Tech, Take It Slow
No matter what, your child will encounter digital devices at some point through peers or school. A good way to introduce it in a healthy manner is to do so slowly over the course of time. Purchase a tablet for the family (or use your own) and decide how to allocate time on it. You could, for example, start by using it together for 30 minutes a day.
As your child grows more independent, you can give them more freedom with the device. They might get to play an educational game or explore child-safe websites. They can then progress to 30 minutes of personal usage without supervision, one hour after homework, and so on. When you judge they’re mature enough to exercise their own discipline, you can consider giving them their own device.
6. Avoid Using Tech as a Distraction
Parents everywhere know the feeling of a child needing attention when they aren’t capable of giving it. Maybe you have a migraine or are trying to decompress from a long, exhausting day at work. With a tablet at your disposal, the easiest solution to quiet them down is right in front of you. Still, as convenient as it is, using technology to distract your kids will ultimately make their behavior and your relationship worse.
Handing your fractious child an iPad fails to get at the root of the problem, whatever it may be. Instead, it can cause a disconnect between the two of you and impulse control issues down the line. In truth, you should try to only employ technology as a tool for education or relaxation.
In the end, the relationship your child develops with technology will be a direct result of your decisions about it. You want to help them build healthy habits with tech but also don’t want to deprive them of it. As with so many adventures in parenting, the goal is to find a balance. Technology, after all, is not going anywhere.
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