Taming technology for a toddler or preschooler is fast getting up there with toilet training and tantrums as one of the many challenges of modern parenting.
When we bring those little bundles of joy home from the hospital the last thing on our minds is whether we are prepared for the onslaught of ipads and online games, and a toddlers technology tantrum. But fast forward the blink of an eye and most parents are finding themselves smack bang in the midst of a Minecraft meltdown or the whiny pleas of just one more Peppa Pig episode.
It can be an exhaustive, guilt ridden position to find yourself in. The placating of a tired, bored child with an ipad whilst you quickly run around the supermarket, finish your cold coffee or start the dinner, can quickly become the go to convenient way to keep your child relatively satisfied and help you get a few things done with relative peace and sanity.
But what happens if this becomes the only way we treat our kids boredom or keep them quiet? Not only does it become the only way they can treat their own boredom and keep themselves quiet, but it becomes a firmly entrenched behaviour that becomes increasingly difficult to reverse as they get older.
Now I am certainly not saying that you should never hand over an episode of Peppa Pig or Bluey to offer 20 minutes respite or to allow you to stir the cheese sauce. But let’s look at how we can keep it manageable and avoid slipping in to bad habits that very quickly become sticky behaviours.
Healthy toddler and preschooler development
Whilst research on the effects of technology on children’s development is starting to become more prevalent, the results and the conclusions are largely correlational and still leave a lot of questions unanswered. It is simply still too early to come to many of the conclusions we need to make truly informed decisions. Thus we should stick with what we do know when we incorporate the technology. We definitely know a lot of things kids do need, so lets ensure that our focus is on those things. They need:
- Good food
- Plenty of sleep
- Time to be active
- Time outside and in nature
- Opportunities to create and explore
More laps less apps…or at least laps with the apps
And their most important need and the most important variable when it comes to healthy child development, is the connection they have with their carers and those around them. We know that physical connection, face to face communication and security of loved ones is paramount and far more important than anything they receive from an app. But that also means that for those times when they are on technology or using an app, it is the interactive nature of that time that will give them the greatest benefits. So sitting on a lap discussing a story, puzzle or game they are playing on an ipad, is always going to have greater benefits than passively consuming content on their own.
Don’t make technology the bad guy
Making something the forbidden fruit never bears well with young people (or anyone really). So we can let kids know there are benefits and fun that can be had from the technology. We don’t have to view it as something intrinsically bad that we have to be fighting with all the time, but rather that it is something that needs to be incorporated in ways that are healthy and balanced. Not because we want to ruin their fun, but purely because there are many other activities and experiences they need to fit in to their day.
Transition from the technology
When we rip a device out of a young persons hands they can believe that they are either in trouble for using the device or that you are simply wanting to take away all their fun. This in turn can lead to the dreaded ‘techno tantrum’. For younger kids it can be a good idea to have another activity they can more easily transition into. They get to know that the technology is fine for a little while, but it is only one way they are entertained or one way that they learn. So have the pencils or blocks or grab the basketball ready to go outside and change activities, rather than leave them crying out for the banished golden nugget.
Control the content
Don’t leave a young child with a Youtube stream that keeps churning up suggested videos. Not only will they likely be served up highly questionable content, but it also takes away the natural end point. Using curated content sites such as ABCKids ensures the content is safe and kid friendly. By stipulating one or two episodes, we also give them an endpoint that doesn’t send them down a rabbit hole of neverending videos.
Role model good technology habits
Be aware that they will always be watching, so be sure you are showing them how you want to be as they grow. Are you putting your device down to eat a meal, have a conversation, go to bed? This is the stuff they will be seeing regardless of what you tell them they should be doing. And these are the behaviours they will no doubt emulate.
Get outside and active often
Yes we have to work a little harder to get our kids outside and active today and that means we as parents have to be showing that too. These little devices answer a lot of their perceived needs, so let’s be sure we are constantly highlighting all of the other needs they have, by simply making them part of their everyday. Creating a culture of outside and active play that just becomes part of what they do, not simply an alternative to sitting on a device.
Avoid technology before bed
Avoid technology at least an hour before bed. Audio books or gentle music is ok but we don’t want those little eyes and minds continuing to be stimulated by the bright lights of a screen. Give those developing brains time to unwind before bed, to be in the very best position to get all the rest and relaxation they need to do it all again tomorrow.
We know our young people are going to grow up in a world saturated by screens and devices. Getting in early with good habits that are healthy, balanced and manageable, will certainly save you a lot of headaches as they continue on on their digital journey.