Children and Technology: What Dads Should Know

children and technology, playing with iPads

Children playing with tablets | ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images

Unless you’re living a Spartan-esque existence, it’s likely that your children are surrounded by technology in almost every facet of their lives. Even if you’re trying to limit how often they’re in front of a screen, they’re playing computer games at school, using a laptop for homework, texting their friends, and playing the latest PlayStation 4 games at sleepovers.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, a typical American child will stare at some type of screen for 5 to 7 hours per day. This is concerning for many health experts, since increased screen time can lead to trouble sleeping, problems with attention span, and an increased risk for obesity, among other issues. Pediatricians often take a hard-line approach when recommending the amount of time children should spend using technology, but the issue is that those guidelines aren’t always realistic.

In some cases, the screens aren’t totally detrimental. They’re certainly not the big bad wolf, as mastering technology will likely be one of the keys to success in future generation’s careers and day-to-day functions. So what is a normal, average parent with kids who like technology supposed to do? The short answer, according to a recent post from The New York Times, is to use common sense, and keep in mind some general rules from experts along the way.

Rethinking children’s technology use

The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated for years that “screen time” should be strictly limited for most children. Up until recently, the academy’s steadfast policy has been to completely avoid screens for all children under two years old, and to limit screen time for older children to under two hours per day. “Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play,” the academy states.

While most people can agree that pretending to be an astronaut in the backyard is good for the imagination, the Times reports that the academy is reviewing its policies to update them with new technology and scientific findings in mind. It’s not realistic anymore to paint technology and screen time as the villains — it just needs to be used in the right ways.

Updating screen time guidelines

iPad app for children

Mattel activity iPad app for children | Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

The academy realizes it needs to come up with recommendations parents can actually use. That doesn’t mean approving of giving a toddler a smartphone every time they throw a fit — but most parents realize that’s not solving the problem anyway. “In a world where ‘screen time’ is becoming simply ‘time,’ our policies must evolve or become obsolete,” the academy acknowledges in a position paper for pediatricians. “The public needs to know that the Academy’s advice is science-driven, not based merely on the precautionary principle.”

While the academy reviews its official guidelines, it has released some information to pediatricians about realistic expectations. Here is some of what they recommend.

  • Technology for children under age 2 should still be strictly limited. “While children under 18-30 months of age are using digital devices, personal interactions with parents and caregivers are more educational,” the academy stated in a summary paper from a symposium on media and children in 2015.
  • Parenting hasn’t changed; just the environment. The academy suggests continuing to play with your kids, even if some of that is interacting with an online game or app. Continue good modeling skills by limiting your own screen time, and demonstrate good online etiquette.
  • Content always matters. Skyping with a traveling parent or far-flung grandparent is a conversation, and children of any age will pick up language cues from that much better than passively watching an online video. As children get older, parents still need to monitor what’s on the screen. “Media violence will never be good for kids; sexual content at a young age will never be good for kids; first-person shooter games will never be good for kids,” Victor Strasburger, a distinguished professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, told the Times. “The research is very clear, and it will never change.”
  • Non-screen time is still important. Even when adolescents and teens are spending much of their day in front of a computer for school and social activities, it’s vital they look at things that aren’t lit with LED lights from time to time. The U.S. National Library of Medicine suggests keeping TVs and cellphones out of children’s bedrooms, and going without screens at mealtimes and during homework periods (unless, of course, a computer is required.)

Ultimately, it’s good to take into account what science shows about children and how the use of technology affects them. But realistically, it’s OK to see that science is still catching up with the technology available. As a parent, be comfortable making judicious decisions about how much screen time is appropriate for your children.

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