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Reducing the role of devices in your child’s life

Take a look around almost any situation where there is a family with young kids. Chances are, you’ll see at least a few of the children, regardless of age, on a device of some kind. International studies have shown that the average age of a child starting to use a touch-screen device is about 11 months.  And it is no surprise that many children master a digital device before they can talk, tie their own shoes or read. 

Many parents are substituting smartphones for books and general baby toys. You may have seen this yourself in restaurants or other public places where the smartphone becomes a babysitter-cum-distraction device.

It’s all fun and games till…

As technology seeps into more areas of our life, it is but natural that our children get exposed to it earlier. Experts who are worried about how immersed kids have become in interactive media point to studies linking heavy screen time to obesity, difficulty paying attention, an inability to make real-world friends, dulled imagination, low academic performance, and increased aggression. More important, they argue, digital technology robs kids of the hands-on creative play that's so essential for development.

Like many of the issues that are cause for concern among young children, the root of the problem does not usually lie with them.  We find it difficult to find a balance and to set boundaries for our children because we often find it difficult for ourselves. In the midst of our busy lives, most of us are unaware of the time we spend on our own devices.

Switching off the habit

So, once you discover your digital addiction quotient, what do you do about it? Here are some tips to managing devices and the family.

Unplug yourself.  Set a good example by limiting your tech time and using those free moments to be with your family. For example, have a ‘no phones at the dining table or bedtime’ rule, or keep a couple of hours every evening completely device-free.

Fire the electronic babysitter. Don't flip a switch whenever the kids are bored or you need a break. It may help to keep the computers and devices in one location like a den so that access to it is limited and trackable.

Develop healthy media habits early. Just because your kid can play with your iPad for hours doesn't mean they should. For example, if you hand them a digital device every time you get in the car, be prepared for a meltdown when they don’t get that electronic fix. The suggested screen time for toddlers and preschoolers is a maximum of 20 to 30 minutes of screen time twice a day. Remember, this includes all screens, not just TV.

Be skeptical. Just because a program is billed as educational, that doesn't necessarily mean it is. Check for recommendations from trusted sources such as Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org) and The Center on Media and Child Health (cmch.tv).

January 11, 2018 — Awant Bhagat

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