/ Parenting, Technology

How much exposure to technology can kids take?

Children using gadgets on sofa

With two reports looking into how tech can affect childhood development, can a balance be met where technology enhances, rather than impairs, our kids’ lives?

A quick look around my peers and our increasingly growing number of children paints a predictable picture of how exposed today’s youngsters are to technology.

Most of us don’t have children older than four, yet many have long been swiping through pictures on smartphones, clicking on their favourite CBeebies character online and taking reasonably good pictures on our (or sometimes their own) digital cameras.

The risks of too much tech

None of this is particularly surprising, I know. We’ve also spoken about tech-savvy tots on Which? Conversation before, particularly from a cost point of view. But what effect is all this screen time having on their development?

According to a couple of different accounts out last week, a rather dismal one. Firstly, a former head teacher and chairman of the Independent Schools Council, Barnaby Lenon, warned that young people’s reading and conversational skills were being put at risk by overexposure to modern technology.

Limit computer use to one hour a day for children aged up to 12, and two hours for older pupils, he advises – otherwise you could have a tech-addict on your hands.

Over-the-top? It may sound that way, but hot on the heels of his comments came a report from The Prince’s Trust. While it neatly backed up his claims, it also delved into the bigger picture. The study looked at different family lifestyles and concluded that kids who grow up without the daily routine of regular bedtimes and family meals achieve worse results at school.

Apparently, teachers are complaining that growing numbers of pupils turn up to school too tired to concentrate after spending the previous night watching TV or playing computer games. And child development experts are also warning that the influence of screen-based technology on the brains of young children can harm their ability and progress at school.

Can technology and kids mix?

It’s good to see a study that looks at the whole picture of family life, rather than grabbing at quick conclusions about technology and children. Like many mums, I struggle to find an acceptable balance of TV and tech versus all those wholesome activities kids ‘should’ be doing, but regular bedtimes and mealtimes are a must in our house.

Tech doesn’t have to be a dirty word when it comes to children. We’ve all read about the 13-year-old genius who created a programme in his bedroom and sold it to a multi-national for millions. How is he less of a high achiever than the young musician of the year or what’s-his-name who plays Harry Potter?

And even if fame and fortune aren’t on the cards, TV can teach children new words and concepts and technology helps them approach problems differently. The key is in balance.

It’s all too easy to beat ourselves up about not being the perfect parent, but I’m actually taking positive conclusions from these findings. Provide a stable, balanced routine with plenty of interaction and the kids will be alright… even with a bit of time in front of a screen.

Anon the mouse says:
12 January 2012

Tech addict, what rubbish. Technology now touches most areas of our lives, and by artificially limiting exposure to it you are creating problems for the future.
A healthy, supportive environment is more important for a childs development than wether they spent yesterday playing the DS for 4 hours or playing with other toys.
We play minecraft and lego together, building tracks and castles and houses…which one do we do with which? Both, on each.

Sometimes we go to the park, other times we grab the tablet select something from the media library (tv/movie/music) and play it on the TV.
We’ve made a couple of games and made a couple of books together. With technology there is the option self publishing those books and games, something that I as a parent am looking into as a different activity for us and also so she can show her work to our family around the world easily.

Childhood is different now to when I was a kid, and different again from when my parents were children. Using technology to complement playtime or doing different things enhances their understanding of the world.

Anon the mouse says:
12 January 2012

Oh and we built an arcade machine a couple of years ago using a netbook, some MDF, arcade controls (her choice of colours) and lots of patience. Was it approriate, I think so, we learnt some basic woodworking, electrical skills, and also what is inside a PC and how it works.

amumandmore says:
12 January 2012

Hi Hannah,
You’re right. Spot on. Balance is the key but just like a balanced diet it’s sometimes hard to achieve with all things wired and wireless. Just using my son as an example, after prolonged (in excess of an hour – hands up I got sidetracked) access to Wii games, I see a real deterioration in his attitude, personal habits and fatigue levels. It’s just not healthy. He seems to “shut down” to external conversations and things like going to the toilet become a real issue. So, we’ve now banished the Wii and XBox to the weekends (for a collective hour in total, ideally 2 x 30 minute bursts) and school holidays.
The flipside though is that’s the world they’re growing up in. My daughter asked me a few months ago “what age were you when you got your first mobile?”. I’m sure she was expecting a smaller number than 30! It’s a technological age and we need to provide safe exposure to it while also ensuring they can read, write, add up and interact with real people.

amumandmore says:
12 January 2012

Another thing that bothers me with ganes is the blatant disregard some parents seem to have to the age categories given on the packaging. It bothers me that boys (no generalisation meant but my experience seems to be it’s mainly boys) in both my children’s classes (ages 8 and 10) seem to play and have access to games that are age inappropriate. Call of Duty being a prime example.

Gemma Leslie says:
23 January 2012

It all comes down to good parenting i think, parents who just leave with children in front of a tv or pc for hours at a time should not be suprised when their children lack basic social interaction skills, or are more interested in playing games than going for a walk or sitting down with the family. Parents don’t have to look very far to see the route cause of a childs behaviour. I agree with some of the previous posts about integrating technology and education, because lets not forget, we live in a very different world and children need to show some competence with technology so they can fit in. Nowadays children are being taught in school how to create a powerpoint presentation and use search engines like google to help with their homework, provided that there is no plagiarism i see nothing wrong with this, we used to do the same thing, except our search engine was the local library and we spent just as much time with our heads stuck in a book reading for our gcse’s that our children will with thier head stuck infront of a screen studying for their exams.

didi games didi says:
26 July 2012

I savor, result in I discovered just what I used to be having a look for. You’ve ended my four day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye