It’s pretty rare to find a kid these days who isn’t obsessed with their mobile device. From Pokemon Go to WhatsApp to watching Minecraft videos, it seems like their whole world exists on the screen. And it’s not just limited to teenagers or tweens. A recent study by Common Sense Media revealed that 52% of American children between the ages of 0 to 8 have access to mobile devices including a shocking 10% of babies aged one year and younger. Mobile devices do have their upsides, but what are the downsides? And is there a limit we should put on how much time our kids spend on the screen?
The Pros of Allowing Children to Use Mobile Devices
Those in favour of technology for kids point out that certain websites, apps and games can help with children’s development by improving hand-eye coordination and language and problem solving skills. Educational websites aim to make subjects like math, science and history fun and interactive, and certainly the Internet has made it easier for young people to gain access to information, which is a definite asset when it comes to doing research for homework or discovering new interests or hobbies.
Many parents also approve of their children using mobile devices not only because a smartphone or tablet can provide hours of entertainment for even the most finicky kids, but also because they believe that by teaching their children to be tech-savvy they are equipping them with skills that will improve their chances of success in the future. There is no doubt that technology is evolving at a rapid rate, and by the time our children are ready to go out into the workforce, even the most basic jobs will require some level of digital literacy.
The Cons of Allowing Children to Use Mobile Devices
We all know that the Internet has a ton of content that is simply unsuitable for children, but besides that researchers are also discovering many other aspects of technology that may be harmful for little ones, particularly younger children. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that children under the age of two should not be exposed to any screen time at all. Their reasoning is that babies’ brains develop rapidly during the first two years of life, and that social interaction is crucial to learning things like language and how to manage emotions.
Psychologists also agree that technology can have negative effects on children’s mental and emotional development. Children who spend too much time on computers or mobile devices run the risk of being unable to form normal social connections, as they may find it difficult to pick up on social cues, work with others in teams, and solve real-world problems. Moreover, scientists have discovered that screen time releases dopamine in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter that plays a huge role in addiction.
Perhaps the most compelling argument against allowing children to spend too much time on their devices is that it encourages a sedentary lifestyle. Kids need to be active to grow and thrive, and the earlier we can teach them to lead an active lifestyle, the more likely they will be to carry on those healthy habits later in life. In addition, excess screen time can disrupt sleep patterns, which can also lead to health issues, as well as a lack of concentration and behavioural problems.
How Much Time Should I Allow My Kids to Spend on Mobile Devices?
While there are some great arguments both for and against allowing kids to use mobile devices, we believe it’s all about finding a good balance between screen time and ‘real-world time’. The following are some tips on how to set healthy boundaries on mobile device and technology use.
- Talk to you children about healthy technology use
Be open and honest with your children about technology and explain to them why too much screen time may not be a good thing. Encourage your kids to be open and honest with you about what websites and apps they are using, and if need be, have a talk with them about Internet safety and how to protect themselves online.
- Set limits on screen time
Decide how much screen time you think is acceptable for your child, and then set a rule that they can only be online or on their device for a set time period each day. If you have younger children you may want to reduce screen time to the bare minimum, while with older children you may want to factor in a bit more time for schoolwork and communication with friends.
- Create screen-free areas and times
Another way to limit screen time is to designate ‘device-free’ areas and times in the home. For example, you may want to create a rule that during mealtimes the tv must be off and no mobile phones or tablets are allowed at the table. You can also have your kids switch off all devices at least one hour before bed, discourage the use of devices in the bedroom, or set a few hours or even a whole day on the weekends that is strictly media-free.
- Lead by example
There is no point in setting limits on screen time for your children if you’re constantly glued to your own devices. Remember that children are always looking up to their parents and mimicking their behaviour, so set a good example by showing them that you don’t always need to be switched on. Try to find engaging things you can do with your children so they see that you don’t need a device to have fun.
- Consider using a parental control app
If you’re a busy mum on the go (and really what mom isn’t?), it can be hard to manually monitor how often your kids spend on their devices. Fortunately there are a ton of great apps out there that will do the job for you and will allow you to manage multiple devices from anywhere. Some of our favourites include Screentime, FamilyTime, and OurPact.