“Men have become the tools of their tools.” - Thoreau
Like many parents, I am trying to get my head around the confusing issues surrounding technology and kids.
Questions like: What’s happening in your child’s developing brain and how does technology affect that development? Is it true we are creating a new society of socially awkward children whose best friend is their iPad? Is it fact that children who play more on their tablets and less interacting with real people or touching the world with their senses will begin exhibiting educational and behavioral problems around 7 years old as some studies suggest?
In our 21st century world, children are using technology as one of their main forms of play, replacing the hours of imaginative fort-building, run-yourself-ragged outdoor play most of us remember from our own childhoods.
What’s wrong with that? Well, our bodies were born to move, touch, interact emotionally and intellectually. Our brains need a certain amount of daydreaming calm time to be creative and to better focus. Recent studies show that too much computer use can over-stimulate the brain, which increases both anxiety and boredom.
Children learn best, as we all do, through our senses. A child needs 2-3 hours of active play daily to properly develop cognitive and motor skills. Touch is an emotional language the body needs (and I don’t mean touch-screen). Children deprived of touch languish, while children who are frequently touched tend to thrive.
Physical connection to nature is a human need. Fresh air, sunshine, a walk in nature lowers stress levels and restores energy. And though an interactive tablet may be able to teach some wonderful things, nothing can replace our vital need for human interaction, where we learn bonding, trust, communication, love, forgiveness, compassion, generosity and gratitude. These are the building blocks of life.
Children need to learn how to be alone and content, but often parents use the tablet as the mental equivalent of a pacifier or a baby-sitter. We all do it, mostly out of desperation - and it does work. My children almost instantly quiet when I plop an iPad into their hands. But it’s important to limit the times we use that kind of quick fix. Self regulation is an important skill connected to our children’s future success in everything from school to relationships to the happiness factor, but the iPad plop serves more as distraction than teacher on this count.
A healthy balance is the key. Set limits for your children’s tech time. Dr. Gary Rosen, an expert in the psychology of technology, advises a maximum of 30 minutes daily iPad time for children five and under. He suggests a 1-to-5 ratio of tech to play. In other words, for every minute of tech time, allow five minutes for talking, playing with creative toys, or restful activities for calming the brain. So if your child is using her tablet for 30 minutes, balance it out with 150 minutes of other activities. As kids get older, the ratio changes as virtual learning and social activities become more prominent. Pre-teens do best with 50/50 time. For teenagers, Rosen’s suggested ratio flips 5-to-1.