In recent years children have become more exposed to technology and much has been written about the negative impact it can have on your little one’s mind. While it is true that unsupervised and unlimited screen time can be detrimental to your child’s development, recent studies have shown that exposing children to interactive technology and screen time can actually help develop and improve your child’s learning when used appropriately.
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Benefits of exposing your child to technology
1. School readiness and cognitive development
The most significant role technology can play in early childhood development is to increase a child’s school readiness. Developmentally appropriate computer games or apps will increase a child’s readiness for reading and doing math. These programmes will help your child develop those basic skills which are necessary to be successful in school. These skills will also assist children to engage successfully in higher-order thinking and applied learning.
2. Development of problem-solving skills
Younger children are more interested in the short-term goals of games and this is essential in problem-solving. Whilst playing a game, children will ponder what will happen next and what will happen if they perform a certain action within the game. This is helpful for math and logical reasoning skills.
3. Improve hand-eye coordination
Interactive educational games that require children to follow objects and interact with them can help improve their hand-eye coordination. Hand-eye coordination is essential as children begin school when they learn how to write and draw.
4. Language skills show improvement
The reading of e-books or accessing stories online will help children learn new words and the proper ways to pronounce them. Some language development technologies offer multisensory engagement which offers speed and support to the learning process. Boost our child’s vocabulary by offering them picture dictionaries and teach them to look for word meanings when they come across an unfamiliar word.
5. Improvement of capacity for visual attention
Have you ever noticed how preoccupied your child is while playing on their tablet? That is because the are contemplating their next move. Gaming and learning applications equip children to pay more attention to details in order to complete these activities. For instance, while playing with a character, the child has to move the character around while planning their next move. These simultaneous activities train children to pay attention to every detail on the screen in order to achieve the goals of the game.
6. The enhancement of social interaction skills
When technology is used appropriately it can be used in collaboration with other people. Some schools in the US give children the opportunities to write and solve problems together using technology. These children are encouraged to use tech tools to create projects and to share ideas in groups. This allows them to absorb ideas that equip them with skills necessary in relating with other people.
7. Motivation to complete tasks
Children are encouraged by most apps and computer activities to complete a level in order to unlock the next level. These learning games may help create a foundation for children to persist in overcoming challenges, even in the physical world.
8. Dynamic spatial skills
Educational programmes and games allow children to develop dynamic spatial skills through interactive screen time. For example: they can learn how a big building may be compared to a cat, or how small a butterfly can be compared to a frog. These skills will develop their understanding of the world around them.
9. Expanding of horizons
The internet exposes children to things they do not see in their everyday lives. For children living in South Africa seeing snow may never happen. What about the Great Wall of China or a newly discovered animal in the Philippines? These days your child can access information which includes videos, sound clips and much more. Through this they start to understand that the world is much bigger that what they experience on a day-to-day basis.
10. Development of talents and other skills
Interactive media can be used to explore children’s talents. Exposure to, for example, music or writing exercises can give parents valuable insight into their children’s natural talents. Children can get an idea of what skiing looks like or be introduced to how a violin sounds and what it looks like when someone is playing it. Pay attention to what your child is interested in – it may just be his/ her calling.
Tips to make sure your children get the most out of new technology
1. Limit screen time
As parents we all sometimes revert to popping our kids in front of the television or handing them a tablet to buy some time to get some of our own tasks done. However, it is very important to limit screen time and to mix it with a healthy amount of other activities such as exercise, playing, reading and human interaction.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:
- Children under 18 months should only be exposed to video chatting.
- Children 18-24 months should only be exposed to high-quality media, with parents watching alongside to help them understand and engage what they are watching.
- Children 2-5 years old should be limited to 1 hour per day of high-quality content, again with a parent watching alongside to make real world connections.
- Children 6 years and older should have established and consistent limits on the time spent using media, with parents ensuring that digital media doesn’t take the place of sleep, physical activity or real-life interactions.
It is also important to put their devices away well before bedtime. The blue light emitted from LCD screens has been shown to disrupt sleep by interfering with our natural body rhythms by blocking the creation of the sleep hormone melatonin.
2. Interactive screen time is better than passive screen time
Research shows that the benefits of technology are much greater when the screen time is interactive rather than passive (such as watching movies or television programmes) and the benefits are greatest when it is supervised and other interaction accompanies the activity, such as real-world activities or discussions.
The ability to control what is happening and the challenge of having to solve something will stimulate their brains enabling them to learn as opposed to passive content where they will just consume what is shown to them and they do not have to do anything to influence the outcome.
3. Ensure your child interacts with high quality content
It is important that your child is engaging with high-quality content during their screen time. Studies have concluded that excessive unsupervised viewing of low-quality content has a negative impact on play, hobbies, sleep, hygiene and eating habits.
Exposure to the right sort of content can be achieved through a number of mechanisms from parental controls (where you are in control of the apps and games your child has access to) and child-friendly versions of apps such as YouTube Kids. Discuss with your child the sort of content they are allowed to watch and be sure to monitor the content they are consuming.
4. Protect your child online
Many games and apps now include a social aspect where you can connect with others across the world to make the content more engaging.
As with checking that your child engages with high-quality content, also check that any social elements to the apps and games they are using are appropriate for their age. Many programmes will have safeguards in place to ensure that they are not contacted by strangers, and if they don’t you should probably steer clear of these.
Talk to your child about the risks of befriending people online and make sure that they understand what to do if they are being contacted by strangers or asked for personal information.