When to introduce your child to a smartphone or tablet?

With technology becoming more and more a part of everyday life, it may seem like a good choice to introduce your child to technology early. But, studies show that early smartphone usage can lead to technology addiction and other problematic behavior.  So let's talk about when to introduce your child to a smartphone or tablet.

How technology influences a child’s behavior and development

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Technology can adversely affect a child’s development. Not only can early introduction lead to technology addiction, but it shows no actual benefit to any early educational improvement over traditional learning in face to face methods. 

According to Piaget’s theory on education, children should learn by interacting with the world around them. Smartphone usage limits their time to do that. With already packed schedules of families today, play and exploring time is already very limited. 

Things to ask yourself before you go out and buy a smartphone or Tablet

A study showed that 25% of toddlers or preschoolers have a smart device, either a tablet or a smartphone.  To me that statistic was alarming.   

Children under preschool do not need a tablet. And you should be asking yourself some serious questions before making a purchase of a  tablet or smartphone for a child. 

Are you buying a tablet just to entertain your child?

It is very tempting to hand your child a tablet so that you can buy some quiet and get something done, but what are the costs of this to your child’s development. 

Children who are always entertained, never learn to sustain themselves through periods of boredom to develop grit and persistence.  

50 screen free activities for kids

Who is benefiting from the tablet or smartphone?

The parent is the person who benefits the most from giving a child a device. The parent is getting some quiet, more contained behavior while they attend to something they need to attend to. 

 At older ages, children could benefit some from learning how the technology works, but for very young children there is very little to no benefit from using smart devices. 

Does your child really NEED IT? 

Most likely your child doesn’t need a device for themselves. The better policy is to have a shared family device that can be regularly checked by the parent for correct usage and what content the child is watching. 

Most experts agree that children under the age of preschool do not need any technology, especially tablets or smartphones. After preschool, very limited use is more appropriate. 

No your child does not need a smartphone or tablet. If any tablet or smartphone is bought it should be a shared use device that the parents retain the majority of the control of. 

What to get instead of a smartphone or tablet for growth and development

Children should be learning through interacting with their world. Playing with open-ended toys and having time to explore outdoors

Instead of a tablet to spark creativity, art supplies that are accessible to your child whenever creativity strikes are a perfect alternative. 

.Spatial intelligence can be learned by playing with Legos, wooden blocks, and magnet blocks. 

If you want a full list of toys that actually help your toddlers’ and preschoolers’ development, you can see my full post here

The Negative Effects of Tablets and SmartPhones

There are many negative consequences of giving a child a smartphone or tablet. Some of these negative effects include: 

  • Hinders growth and development 
  • Hinders use of imagination and problem solving skills
  • Promotes Isolation and Addiction
  • Negative Parent/Child Relationship

It affects their growth and development hindering them

When children are spending time looking at screens they are missing time that they could be spending playing and developing their gross and fine motor skills, which are crucial for development.

Children who miss out on developing their fine motor skills, struggle to learn to write, cut with scissors, or even hold a pencil or crayon correctly.  

Gross motor skill issues can cause lack of coordination, becoming more accident prone. 

Play, especially outdoor play, helps kids develop risk assessment and risk management skills.

Tablets don’t encourage children to use their imagination or problem-solving skills

When kids spend time playing games or more likely watching videos on a tablet, they are not using their imagination or problem-solving skills. 

Alternatively children who are playing and have the opportunity to overcome their boredom are more likely to be better problem-solvers because using your imagination as a child helps you to develop out of the box thinking and problem solving skills. 

It promotes isolation and addiction

Kids who get tablets and smartphones early are more likely to develop an addicted relationship with devices. In young children reward centers in the brain are being wired, and with the instant gratification of devices it creates this addictive relationship with needing the dopamine produced by being entertained by screens. 

Years ago the only screen in the home was the TV, often in the family room. Watching movies and TV shows together was a family bonding activity. Now with everyone in a family having their own smart devices, everyone can go to their own areas and consume entertainment in isolation. 

Less screens in the home does give families more opportunities to be connected to each other. 

It has a negative effect on the child/parent relationship.

With the isolation comes strained relationships between parent and child. Parents are less likely to know what their child is interested in when the child has unlimited screen time. 

And conversely, parents being online more and more means parents are less likely to be attuned to their children. While parents today have more time with their children than past generations, parents being online more often means technology is creeping in and stealing away the hours away from families. 

But parents aren’t the only ones who are distracted by phones, children of younger and younger ages are more often to have access to tablets and smartphones. In years past, a child would often be watching and learning as their parent’s prepared meals or did chores around the house.  Children are missing out on these essential learning times because of screens. 

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The Positive Effects of Open-Ended Toys & Independent play

The solution to the technology encroaching on children’s developmental skills is independent, open-ended play

Play Promotes Social Emotional Intelligence 

An important part of play is promoting social emotional intelligence.  Play helps a child learn how to set rules and when to change those rules. 

Open-ended play also helps them to play with social ideas, such as playing house, dolls, and even playing at careers. When children engage in this kind of play they start understanding how rules and social norms change from one place to another.  They also start playing with the idea of how people interact in their world. 

Independent Play and Motor Skills 

When children are playing, whether that is playing chase or sitting down to assemble a block tower they are working on their motor skills. 

Fine motor skills are the motor skills of the hands. Small play like using scoops, tweezers and picking up and stacking blocks all help to develop these skills. Playdough is another great tool for developing these skills, building the muscles of the hands. 

Gross motor skills are more of the bodily motor skills. Knowing where your body is in space and in relation to itself is a part of this. That is to say when you close your eyes you can still put a spoonful of cereal in your mouth with very little difficulty. Your brain without visual cues knows where all it’s parts are.  Gross motor skills help reduce clumsiness. Big movement play like jumping, running, crawling and climbing all help strengthen these skills. 

Open-Ended Toys Help Problem-Solving and Imagination 

When children are given open-ended toys that they can play with in any way they see fit, it helps their brains to develop problem solving skills and improves their imagination. 

When children are playing with things like blocks, toy road ways and peg dolls they have to think about how to best make what is in their mind come to life. Whether that is building a large tower or making a little city with their roadways, children have to work hard to think about the situation and think about multiple options to overcome obstacles. 

If you watch a child over time building with blocks, which is a must have toy in every play room, their level of frustration will improve. At first the smallest set back will make them want to quit, but over time their ability to push through frustration will grow and grow.  This perseverance is something that is built with open ended play. 

Technology and the classroom

Technology is in every classroom, from tablets and computers and even virtual learning. Once children reach kindergarten or first grade they are expected to be able to navigate technology. 

While we can petition our school districts and encourage our schools to implement more free play at younger ages and push the age of using technology back toward middle school, the reality is that students are going to be dealing with technology once they reach school age. 

How much screen time should students spend on tablets and smartphones?

In this article at Journalist Resource, they found studies that showed that children under the age of 5 who had two hours of screen time a day or more showed more behavior problems at 5 years old than their counterparts who had less screen time. 

They also found that toddlers who use mobile devices daily were more likely to have a speech deficit at 18 months old. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children between the ages of 2-5 get less than 1 hour of screen time a day, and for older children should have consistent limited screen time. Children under the age of 18 months old should not get screen time with the exception of video chatting with friends and family. 

The priority should be children getting plenty of sleep, exercise and free time that doesn’t revolve around screens.  

When is the best age to introduce a child to a smartphone or tablet?

Technology is unavoidable in school and the world, so we can’t keep our children from technology forever.  

The best age to introduce a child to a smartphone or tablet should be after the child is in preschool, around 4 years old. This gives your child time to learn how to navigate the technology. 

Children of this age should only be accessing high-quality content. 

Learning games and education videos are the sorts of content that you should expose your child to. 

Allowing them to learn to click, drag, and navigate on different devices such as a computer, smartphone, and tablet will give them the skills to succeed in school with technology. 

Parents should monitor all technology usage. Children should not have access to technology on their own to dive into areas of the internet and inappropriate content for them. 

The Bottom Line: Introducing technology to a child has no benefit in early childhood for education or otherwise.

Researchers have found that there is no benefit to introducing a young child to a screen before the age of preschool. 

In fact, a number of studies have shown that screen time given to young children is detrimental to their health and development and promotes behavioral problems, focus problems and an increased risk of obesity. 

The best toys for children's growth and development are those that offer open-ended play and let them explore.  But with technology increasing in classrooms across the world, keeping children from technology isn’t always possible.   

Parents should wait until preschool to introduce their children to smart devices like smartphones and tablets, and even then should limit the use to less than an hour a day in the same room as the parent. 

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