The holidays can be the perfect storm of technology overload for kids: mile-long airport lines, days at a grandparent’s house without the regular toys, the disappearance of the school routines. It’s easy to let kids retreat into a corner with an iPad or cell phone, and see them come out an hour later, bleary-eyed and irritable.
With the influx of digital devices comes a whole new set of questions we--both parents and teachers of young children--have to answer. How much is too much time with the iPad or cell phone? How much structure should we put around children’s watching or playing of downloaded games?
As a specialist in early childhood education and development, and a mom of a three-year-old daughter, I see these questions as opportunities to chart a path through the thorny weeds of kids and technology use. The extra time of the holidays gives us a chance to ask what kids are getting out of their device use, and how we can help them best manage and be mindful about their time.
Any hard and fast rule about technology, or much of anything else, is bound to give way during the holidays. There are times, like during a long delay at the airport, when I know I’m less aware of my daughter’s technology use than I should be, and let her watch a few pre-loaded videos on the iPad. But later, when it’s just the two of us, I ask myself whether my husband and I couldn’t be more thoughtful about what our daughter sees and plays with and why.
As a scientific advisor for a company creating online interactive “brain games” to support children’s executive function (abilities to plan, shift attention, and focus), I’m interested in how we can teach skills in a way that’s engaging and feels like play--and that sets children up for future academic learning.
From my own professional experiences and my personal experience as a mother, I know that a constructive digital strategy is critical for both parent and child. Below are a few guidelines to keep in mind for device use this holiday season:
We don’t have to think of children and device use as a negative equation. With some control over what and how they use educational technology, children can learn and develop skills, and arrive back at school even more prepared to learn, attend and thrive.