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Find a Healthy Balance with Technology and Your Children

Technology is so prominent in our society today, bringing disadvantages with it along with the benefits. How many times have you seen a toddler or small child given a smartphone, tablet or other similar device to keep them occupied while in public? While this can be helpful in a pinch, this form of entertainment also has the potential to be abused. The Illinois Early Learning Project provides some great tips for parents in finding a healthy balance with technology and electronic devices:

  • Talk and interact while using technology. Conversations help your child understand what she sees and how technology works. Talk about the content to help your child understand what she sees.
  • Choose age-appropriate programming. Infants and younger toddlers (under 18 months) can participate in interactive video chatting with relatives, but they do not benefit from programming or toys that claim to improve children's intelligence. Older toddlers (18–36 months) may benefit from some simple, child-directed programming with support from adults.
  • Infants and toddlers need hands-on practice with real objects. They benefit most from their interactions with people through play and conversations. Use technology to complement other activities rather than relying solely on technology to entertain, teach, or otherwise occupy your child's time.
  • Young children are attracted to blinking lights and screens. Childproof as needed, especially heavy electronic items such as big screen TVs, which are tip-over hazards.
  • Your child is watching your technology use, which can often interfere with daily routines. Put down your device and give your child your full attention. Use electronic media away from meal and sleep spaces.

So what's the big deal? Why shouldn't we let children watch programs and videos and play video games as long as they are content? Well, experts say that problems begin when media use starts taking the place of physical activity, hands-on exploration and face-to-face social interaction in the real world, which is critical to learning. Too much screen time can also harm the amount and quality of their sleep. The most current guidelines on children's digital media use or "screen time" by the American Academy of Pediatrics includes these highlights:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.

I think the big take-away on this topic is that with supervision, appropriate time limits and good role modeling, families can find that healthy balance children need with technology use.

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