Is iPad Time Harming Your Child?

Dine at any restaurant in Singapore and you will see, somewhere or another, toddlers eating in front of a tablet or smartphone with gazes transfixed on a cartoon onscreen, hardly noticing when their parents or domestic helpers cajole them to open their mouths for food. Which gives rise to the question – just how young is too young for children to be exposed to smart-screen tech products like the iPad?

The clean, easy interfaces of our sleek tablets and smart phones today make them great to look at, easy to transport and intuitive to use, especially to a bright young child. Even senior citizens who have eschewed computers all their lives now tote smart phones with practiced ease.

Is that as positive a development for young children as it is for the elderly, though?

Most experts agree that children below the age of two should not be exposed to glowing screens, and that pre-schoolers should not watch television or use digital devices for more than two hours a day. 80 per cent of brain growth takes place before the age of three and extended exposure to technology so early on could hamper the development of social skills amongst other essential skillsets of life. But after that crucial age, is it really “anything goes” when it comes to children and iPads?

It is certainly undeniable that embracing technology at some point of time is a must. IT applications are today a common theme in the modern classroom; a survey conducted by the Tonight Programme in the UK found that 70 per cent of children are already familiar with using a laptop, computer or smart phone by the time they start school, and that 47 per cent of parents in the same survey believed exposure to technology before school-going age was essential.

These numbers are likely to be comparable in Singapore, where ‘kiasu’ parents cannot stand their idea of their children losing out in any way (especially not in the tech department). And certainly, children who grow up with technology will be better placed to excel when technological applications come up in their schoolwork (and it will, inevitably). But does this tech-savviness have to come at the expense of reading, writing and other non-digital forms of play?

Whatever age you decide to introduce your children to an iPad or any other mobile device, here are a couple of guidelines to consider.

Limit Screen Time

Jeannie Galindo, supervisor of instructional technology for the Manatee County School District in Florida, recommends no more than a half an hour of screen time per sitting for a four to five year old and no more than an hour for a six to seven year old. For a high school student, screen time should be limited to less than two hours if gaming or Facebook is the purpose. If, however, the student is using the device as a productivity tool, a longer time period may be considered.

Parents of high-school students beware, though; they’re probably very adept at having FaceBook, World of Warcraft and Twitter open even as they conduct research for their homework, so watch them a little closer – don’t be fooled even if you see an official-looking Word document open every time you walk by. Keep a watchful eye out also for signs that your child is accessing undesirable sites online or being cyberbullied.

Content Matters

There are thousands of apps out there that teach you everything from basic math, metric conversion, time, money and fractions, geography, Shakespeare to art and music. Great memory-enhancing games, money management programmes and spatial reasoning activities can also help children can also pick up skills not currently taught in school, so do your research and fill your device with education-based content.

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