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Good Schools Guide

Preschoolers and technology: how parents can watch and learn

Technology can erode traditional parental control, but its online games can also bring families together and screen time encourages personal interaction

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2018, 10:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 April, 2018, 11:08am

As technology advances and proliferates, many parents might wonder how to raise a child in a world where entertainment, information and social interactions are available at the swipe of a little finger.

Henrik Hoeg, managing director of the Jadis Blurton Family Development Center, says technology has increased the frequency and ease for children and parents to communicate with each other and with the wider world.

“The impact of new technology, and communication and media devices in particular, is often seen as a double-edged sword,” he says. “In reality, it is neither good nor bad. Technology is a tool, and it’s utility and effect depends on how we choose to use it.”

For example, a device that enables parents to contact their children at any time and at any place could be useful in emergencies, but then it could just as quickly turn into a leash if it is overused,Hoeg says.

“Perhaps once this technology is less nascent, clearer parenting styles [that relate] to modern technology and social media will emerge,” he explains. “But for now, parents sometimes feel [as if] they are in the Wild West. If parents are uncertain, moderation is always a safe guide.”

However, most of the concerns about the negative impact of technology, on eyesight, social development and cognitive development, were linked to the excessive use instead of mere exposure to tech, adds Odette Umali, founder and managing director of Gordon Parenting.

As an organiser of Parent Effectiveness Training workshops across the town, she says parents should be aware of the family impact of children’s growing access to an increasing range of information.

“Somehow, parents need to be smarter, and be up to date with technology if they want to engage with their kids and continue to be relevant with what they are interested in,” she says.

Parents also need to adjust to their modes of communication and be open to tell their children why they need to do certain things in a certain way, Umali, adds.

“Instead of being the authoritative figure in what the children need to know, parents are playing a bigger role in being the moral compass for their children, in choosing how to behave, and why,” she explains.

There are also clear guidelines on how much screen time is advisable for young children, Umali adds.

Over 10,000 paediatricians at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 2017 National Conference agreed that there should be no screen time for infants under the age of 18 months, she says.

Tots aged from two to five were recommended up to one hour per day’s screen time, and preferably with interactive media such as Sesame Street, Skype and FaceTime, she adds

The conference also advised parents for children over six years to prioritise productive time, such as sleep, physical activity and face to face social interaction, over screen-based entertainment or social media. Parents should see themselves a the “media mentor” for their children as they became more independent, Umali says.

“It is worth noting that the tech executives in Silicon Valley revealed that they would not allow their own children to use any gadget at weekends, Umali adds. Tech gurus including the late Steve Jobs had publicly stated that they were “low-tech parents” who would limit children’s time on smartphones and tablets to less than an hour per day, and discourage the presence of any screen in the bedroom.

However, technology can enrich family life when parents use it with their children. For example, Skype and FaceTime are good at connecting children with their travelling parents or distant grandparents and friends. It also enables children to overcome geographical distance and maintain important relationships.

And while more traditional, screen-based family activities may include watching movies or educational TV shows together as a family, interactive games such as Minecraft enable parents and children to play together and on multiple screens.

Hoeg says parents should approach technology as a neutral tool, and be aware that they are neither over-reliant on it, nor biased against it.

“For example, broadly speaking, handing a child an iPad should never be a default solution to bad behaviour, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that you are reinforcing the behaviour you don’t want,” he says.

“However, I think that technology specifically being used has a reputation worse than it deserves. If the same parent hands the screaming child a book and it calms them down, suddenly a lot of people would think the parent had done something incredible. Is the bias against the iPad there founded? Hard to say.

If parents use an iPad as a way to distract a child, “so that they can get some room to breathe, that is just fine, but you have to also take some time to explore the iPad together, to understand how it functions, what it can be used for, and what misuse of it looks like”, Hoeg says. “This is especially true when kids start using the internet and personal e-mail.”

He also advises parents to engage their children in conversation, and to explore the technology with them.

“Supervision should be with a light touch and known to the child,” Hoeg says. “There’s a difference between training wheels on a bike and never letting your child peddle at all.”