From the time they can grasp an object in their hands, children reach for electronic gadgets of all kinds, particularly our cell phones and computers. When you start noticing more child-size fingerprints on your iPad than your own, it may be time to consider introducing your child to a handheld wireless device.
A smartphone is a high-tech cell phone that runs its own operating system, allowing the user to talk, email, surf and take high-resolution photos and videos. A tablet computer does everything your laptop does but in a small, portable flat form with a touch screen. Here are some helpful tips on when and how to introduce your child to one or both of these technologies.
Wait Until Preschool
Just because toddlers like to push buttons and watch videos does not mean they are ready for a computer. Experts recommend waiting until your child is at least preschool age. “Children under two years of age learn best from real-world experiences and interactions, and each minute spent in front of a screen-based device is a minute when your child is not exploring the world and using their senses, which is extremely important in their development process,” says Dr. Carolyn Jaynes, a learning designer for Leapfrog Enterprises. “However, by age three, many children are active media users and can benefit from electronic media with educational content. This content often uses strategies such as repeating an idea, presenting images and sounds that capture attention, and using child rather than adult voices for the characters.”
Your child may be ready sooner or later, depending on the level of supervision required. “In a supervised environment, children as young as four or five are able to engage in learning activities using smartphones and tablets of all kinds,” says Jeannie Galindo, supervisor of instructional technology for the Manatee County School District in Florida. “In an unsupervised environment, I wouldn’t recommend a smartphone or tablet purchase for a child until at least between the ages of 11 and 13.”
Parental Guidance Suggested
Experts recommend parents be very involved in their child’s experience with electronic devices, especially at a young age. The goal is balanced exposure. “Parents should keep media screens in family areas so that a child’s media usage can be monitored, and TVs and computers should be kept out of bedrooms,” Jaynes says. You can help your child get more out of a smartphone or tablet by sharing in the experience. Engage with your child as he tries out a new app, asking questions about the game and pointing out different aspects of the content. This practice, typically called “co-viewing” when applied to TV-watching, can help increase your child’s comprehension skills, Jaynes says.
However, doctors warn not to underestimate the learning power of reading a book with your child or spending time exploring the outdoors.
“Parents need to be models for their children. While we’re all embracing these great aspects of these digital devices, parents have to strike a balance, turn them off and spend real time with their children,” says Kathleen Clarke-Pearson, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics on communications and media. “The real world is a very important place for children to develop cognitive, social and language skills.” Clark-Pearson suggests allowing your child to take photos of bugs with your iPhone, then going online together to read more about the insects in the images they capture.
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