Technology is an integral part of our world now. Many people resisted it for years, but the truth is, it’s fairly essential to modern living and communication. And for our children, they don’t know life without it. Most of us grew up with fairly tech-free childhoods, or at least a childhood less tech-saturated than the modern child’s is. We had our Gameboys, maybe Nintendos or a Wii in the later years, and a phone in our teens. But our early years were maybe thirty minutes on a junky old computer that took forever for the dial up to work.
Kids nowadays have access to much more sophisticated technology and it’s extremely difficult and perhaps even unrealistic to imagine that we will never allow them to use it as children. So how can we integrate technology in a safe and secure way, without allowing the addictive nature of it to take over our children’s brains? How much are other parents allowing their children to use technology and why do we parent-shame people whose toddlers are watching Peppa Pig at the dinner table?
The Erikson Institute for Child Development in Chicago published a 2016 report called Technology and Young Children in the Digital Age that found that 85% of parents to children under the age of 6 allowed their children to use technology. Television, tablets, smartphones, and computers were the most popular modes of use and over 75% aid they used the tech alongside their children for up to 2 hours a day.
A surprising 86% of parents stated that they were happy with how their child used technology, citing beliefs that tech helped not only with their development but also their literacy. However, 72 percent of parents also had concerns around issues like ‘too much screen time, inappropriate content, commercial messages aimed at young children, and how technology use takes away from time spent outdoors, enjoying active play, and whether it disrupts sleep.’
Technology is a fixture in the home now, with iPads, Smart TVs, phones and especially with all of us working from home for the last few months, we’re using more tech in the home than ever. And how and when we use technology as parents influences our child’s behaviour around it.
Over 90% of the parents surveyed said that they used technology in the home everyday -so none of us are alone in our technology dependence. Bu when it came to their kids use of technology, parents were a little more hesitant to allow them the same amount of use.
‘78% of all parents surveyed allowing children to watch television…Tablets and e-readers were allowed by 53% of parents; smartphones by 42%; and computers by 32%. Overall, only 15% of the parents surveyed said their young children did not have access to technology in the home.’
Family use of technology was popular with under 6s, and it was viewed as helpful in order to guide children towards more ‘meaningful content’ to help develop their skills through interactive and creative activities together. 35 percent of parents who use tech with their children said they spend from 30 minutes to one hour a day and 23 percent said they engage from one to two hours a day together with technology.
The research conducted by Erikson suggests that using technology together is helpful and positive way to explore safe and productive technology usage that can promote learning and the ‘development of healthy technology habits’. The parents role is to model healthy behaviours and to mentor children about technology use. For example, if you’re using technology during social dinner time, then your child will get the cue that it’s also okay to do that, as they won’t understand the social nuances of it yet. However, if you’re giving people you’re full attention and listening during a conversation while keeping your phone away, you’re modelling the standard to which tech should be used.
Erikson had tips for healthy tech parenting that included using meaningful content when it came to technology. So, not just adrenaline-inducing online games, but something that can tell a story or create some art or discover and learn about something new. By exploring this together, you’re also practicing joint exploration which will develop your relationship with one another and with your child’s relationship with technology. Even using tech as a whole family is a useful tool, with interactive quiz games or taking turns games.
It’s important to acknowledge that balancing technology and life is a difficult task and that it will look different for every family. But family interaction can take place without technology in the form on online games or movies too. Board games, family days out, walks, sports, classes – there are many ways to bond without tech and it’s important to nurture those too. Encourage learning always, whether that’s outdoors or indoors and prioritise your time together when it’s unplugged too.