Ask your child what they would like to receive for Christmas, and you’ll most likely be met with an answer that involves tech. It’s rare to see a Santa list today that doesn’t feature a request for an iPad, Xbox or Nintendo 3DS.
But does that mean you should buy your child technology?
With technology increasingly permeating our lives through handheld devices, have you ever stopped to think about the effects this exposure to tech could be having on your little ones?
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of pediatrics both state that children under the age of two should not be exposed to technology, with the only exception being video chatting with distant relatives. For 3-5 year old’s, a little technology is considered acceptable, but no more than an hour per day. This amount increases slightly to two hours per day for 6-18 year olds.
Here are a few things to consider before succumbing to your child’s demands for a new tablet or gadget from Santa this Christmas.
According to a study presented at the 2017 Pediatrics Academic Societies Meeting, 20 percent of 18 month olds studied spent an average 28 minutes a day using screens. Every 30-minute increase in daily screen time suggested a 49% increased risk of what the researchers call expressive speech delay – using sounds and words.
This same study found that the noise and activity of a screen can be distracting for a small child and can cause a disconnect between them and their parents. It can also disturb sleep.
Between 0-2 years, an infant’s brains triples in size. Early brain development is determined by environmental stimuli, or lack thereof. Stimulation to a developing brain caused by overexposure to technologies has shown to be associated with decreased ability to self-regulate, cognitive delays, and executive functioning and attention deficit.
Technology also restricts movement, which can result in delayed development. Movement enhances attention and learning ability and as children spend more and more time time with technology, it is thought that one in three children enter school developmentally delayed.
As kids get older, the frequent use of technology doesn’t get much better, and the strength of their engagement with technology can appear worrying. Although technology has many benefits in terms of education and increased exposure to information, a recent survey by Real Insurance found that 92% of parents are worried about the addictive aspects of technology, whilst 89% reported that they worry about the ways technology can lead to less physical activity.
In 2013, it was reported that a four-year-old preschooler was receiving psychiatric treatment for compulsive behaviour due to her addiction to her iPad. Using her iPad for up to four hours a day, she would become hugely distressed and inconsolable when it was taken away. Your average four-year-old might not take their obsession this far, but it’s certainly not unusual to see children form powerful compulsions towards technology.
Considering this, it’s unsurprising that technology overuse is implicated as a causal factor in rising rates of child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, autism, bipolar disorder, psychosis and problematic child behaviour.
With gadgets like the VTech Digigo Max and the Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition, technology is an easy buy at Christmas. The Amazon Fire HD for example, comes with a 12 month subscription to the Fire for Kids service that packs in books and TV shows aimed at children. Life as a parent would be easy, right?
The issue is that when you buy technology as a gift, you’re teaching your child that technology is play time and that it’s perfectly acceptable. You don’t limit time using LEGO or playing with a dollshouse, so why limit time spent on a handheld device that’s been gifted?
Instead of gifting technology, use it as a tool during learning time and keep it to yourself – bringing it out only when you find it appropriate. No longer are you the ‘bad guy’ when you take it away, you’re ‘a champion’ for letting them use your device in the first place.
When it comes to gifting, play or practicality should always be your goal. Play is the business of childhood and is what encourages your child to discover the world around them. Through play your child works on problem solving, skill building, and overcoming physical and mental challenges. Outdoor play in particular also has a host of health benefits for children, such as increased vitamin D exposure and decreased chances of developing short sightedness.
Pretending, or imaginative play in particular, is one of the cornerstones of a young person’s world. It teaches them that one thing can stand for other things – that a block of wood can be turned into a boat, a set of pots and pans a drumset. With gadgets like iPads, that learning is taken away with the creative and imaginative part of play already taken care of. The other part that’s taken away is the social element, which is detrimental to your child’s development. Children that play side by side might not always show obvious communication, but they are learning to negotiate, cooperate and share. They’re developing important social skills that will stay with them for life.
The bottom line is that technology isn’t going anywhere and that it’s bound to creep into your child’s life. But how it creeps in is up to you. Stay in control and you can limit your child’s tech time to an acceptable amount. Leave it up to them and you could see problems arise.
If you agree that keeping control of technology time is important, check out our handy guide to Christmas gift buying for some fresh ideas. Separated by age group and personal interest, it’s a quick way to discover the best play and practical gifts for kids this Christmas. Be good to your kids this Christmas, and say no to tech.