In April our oldest grandson Miles will be 11, and his brother Reed will turn 9. I was visiting them recently, doing a cut and paste project with their sister Phoebe, who’s 4. The boys joined in, contributing an empty egg carton and some small boxes to create towers and teacups. An hour or so later, it was time for me to leave.
“Bye, Mee Mee,” Miles said giving me a quick peck on the cheek. He then headed for the TV, grabbing the remote and plopping down on the couch. I was impressed. Not once had any of them asked to watch television. In fact, nothing electronic was turned on that afternoon.
I’m hoping they were as impressed with me. Though I always have my iPhone handy for work-related and family e-mails, calls and news, I make a conscious effort not to check it every five minutes when I’m with the children.
It’s hard because technology is addictive, and the more electronic devices we have, the more we want. Kids are no different, but they are more impressionable, less able to self-monitor screen time. Electronic temptations abound for them 24-7, and parents are faced with difficult decisions.
Fortunately, we have marvelous local resources to deal with subjects that baffle parents and grandparents alike. Last Thursday I sat in on “Technology for Tots,” a free program offered by Washington School District Parents as Teachers. I was the only grandparent there, but I didn’t feel the least bit uncomfortable surrounded by moms, a couple of dads and a nanny, all attending to hear guest speaker Mary Beth Huxel’s tips on using technology, and the current research on the positives and negatives of screen time — time spent in front of everything from a television to an iPhone.
Huxel, who’s the coordinator of Early Childhood and Teacher Education at East Central College, shared a wealth of information. The first fact I found fascinating was the time advised for iPad use for children 2 1/2 years of age — five to 10 minutes tops.
“And make sure you are with them,” Huxel said. Used in this way, devices like an iPad are great tools to share and build language with your child, she added.
Throughout Huxel’s presentation parental interaction with technology was advised, to insure that a device like an iPad doesn’t get broken, but also to maximize the device’s educational benefits. The human interaction between parent and child is always advantageous, as are “real life” experiences.
Huxel offered the example of an App that allows children to pop bubbles on a screen, fun for sure, but it doesn’t measure up to the actual stomping and popping of sheets of bubble wrap laid out on the floor.
As children get older, their screen time can increase, but it does need to be monitored. Preschool kids, 3, 4 and 5 years of age, have an attention span of about 20 minutes, Huxel said, and that is the maximum time suggested for their iPad use. And for children in that age group, “TV, DVDs and non-interactive technologies are discouraged.”
And how about electronic books for children? Select a good one, Huxel said, an App like “Cat in the Hat,” with an engaging story and illustrations, one that is interactive and “gives kids control.” Once again, the greatest benefit comes from the parent sitting alongside the child and discussing the book.
“I’m not a fan of auto-play,” Huxel added with a smile. Of course she touched on the importance of real books, of a bedtime routine that includes turning off technology and snuggling up with a picture book your child loves — even if it is one that you really can’t read “one more time.”
Many things have changed over the years in regard to parenting, which seems tougher now than ever before because of all the choices and opportunities offered to those in our care. But one thing remains — worry about not being the best parent we can be.
Some in attendance expressed their concerns about misusing technology, turning to it too much or not enough.
Those parental misgivings were treated with kid-glove kindness and acceptance. Each child, each family is different, and it’s important to do what works for you and yours, Huxel said.
“We get carried away with all the digital noise and question ourselves.” Talk to each other, to other parents and seek advice when needed from Parents as Teachers, Huxel added, concluding a presentation that was positive and informative from the get-go.
Huxel’s presentation was based on a position statement from the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media. It can be accessed online at http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/PS_technology_WEB2.pdf.