Technology is now just as much a part of our home lives as is the car, lawnmower and shower.
This of course also affects young children and questions how we introduce our kids to technology.
Times and what’s healthy
In what follows, we won’t be discussing the perennial issue of “how much screen use is healthy?”. That’s a BIG subject and one that’s hotly debated.
Instead, we’ll look at a few basics that convey values to our younger children. That’s because worrying about how much time say an 11 year old spends on a PC or phone might be too late. It’s important to set some standards by example earlier in their lives.
Technology = Normal
As we’ve said many times before, babies and younger children are pretty smart!
They watch their parents and other family members like hawks, picking up tips about behaviours. This is a survival instinct.
So in the modern household, like it or not, they’ll quickly realise from observation that bigger people are able to make things happen by pushing buttons and turning knobs etc. It’s a short jump from that realisation to starting to want to do so themselves once they can crawl or toddle.
Given the amount of technology around in the modern home, this is going to seem just as normal to them as is their playpen and other toys.
The chances are, your young child will be particularly keen to get to grips with things:
- you interact with verbally – typically phones and maybe PCs;
- which have moving pictures;
- you spend a lot of time on (we’ll come back to this later). They’ll deduce that if it fascinates you, remembering they won’t differentiate between work and play, then it will do likewise for them.
So, start by focusing your attention there.
Differentiate between shared social technology and isolating tech
This might sound hugely complex but it isn’t. It simply reflects the fact that some technology provides a shared social multi-person experience and some is typically highly personal and isolating.
TVs and streamed videos/music on a big screen (etc.) can be shared. So, download a kids’ film or some cartoons and most importantly, sit and watch them with your children (pretend to like whatever it is!)
This encourages a shared experience. It also encourages the development of compromise. Would you prefer to be watching sport on your phone or PC rather than watching a cartoon on the big TV? Perhaps yes but showing you can watch and enjoy things your children are interested in will be highly beneficial.
This also means limiting the time you spend on your phone or PC. That form of technology inevitably is isolating and it’s better for your children to see from their earliest ages that you isolate yourself sparingly.
If you must use your phone or PC for work purposes when your children are about, make sure you demonstrate that you’d prefer to be doing something else and aren’t doing it for pleasure.
Set an example
Setting an example for our children isn’t always easy. Here though are a few tips that will start to give your children an observable context for technology’s use:
- don’t use your phone or laptop in shared family situations. That includes times such as the breakfast/lunch/dinner table, relaxing and watching TV or in a restaurant. If you do so, your child may start to see a gadget as having a claim on your attention that supersedes theirs;
- avoid using gadgets for your own purposes if you’re playing with your child. For example, if you’re building a block tower with them, try to avoid sending texts or making calls at the same time;
- spend lots of visible (to your child) time doing plenty of things that do not involve technology.
As we said at the outset, most young children are desperately keen to do things that get parental attention. Seeing that technology dominates yours may not influence healthy attitudes towards it as your child ages.
The objective here is to portray technology as a tool used at times for specific purposes rather than an all-consuming lifestyle.