With the holidays here, digital immigrants — those of us born before the tech boom — scramble to buy popular tech gifts for a generation of digital natives — those who practically emerged from the womb with cell phone in hand.
At the same time, parents navigating the ever-changing technological landscape wonder about the long-term effects of screen time exposure on their children. As they contemplate the benefits of iPads versus board games, they may worry: “Will too much technology stunt my child’s creativity and intellectual growth? Or will my child be left behind without it?”
In the spirit of the popular Eat This, Not That, David Zinczenko’s book comparing better and worse dietary choices, we provide a Buy This, Not That guide for your growing child’s technology diet.
Buy this: Toys that develop motor control. Conventional toys are already “technology” for the infant/toddler set. Babies up to 12 months will enjoy Manhattan Toy Winkel and the Fisher-Price toys Go Baby Go! and Poppity Pop Musical Dino. Older infants and toddlers will love Playskool Busy Gears and the Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Home Playset. All of these products help develop motor control for future tech enthusiasts.
Not that: Anything with a screen. According to a recent policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Communications and Media, children 2 and younger should not be watching TV or other screens. Period.
Buy this: Technology you and your child can share. LeapFrog My Own Story Time Pad is a tablet for little learners that can be personalized with your child’s name. When you read a story together on electronic media, ask questions like “What do you think will happen next?” to engage your child in the storyline.
Not that: Handheld game consoles. The nature of a handheld game console is that it is a solitary endeavor. Preschool-aged children learn best through social interaction with other children and adults. Early social experiences are critical to healthy relationships later in life.
Buy this: Technology that encourages physical development. Children in the early elementary years are developing long-lasting physical activity patterns. “Exergaming” is a relatively new term to describe video games where user movement controls the game (as in Xbox-Kinect and Wii). Another twist to encourage physical activity is iBitz by GeoPalz, which allows children to earn access to video games or TV based on how active they were during the day.
Not that: Technology that encourages children to be sedentary. Save the time your child is sedentary for an activity — such as reading a good book! — that pays greater learning dividends.
Buy this: Technology with parental controls. Allow children to experience the newest technologies, but maintain some control over their use. Some items, such as the Kindle Fire HD, have settings that allow you to set a timer to shut off the device. If this is not available on your child’s device, set a timer. Once the timer goes off, the device goes away.
Not that: Electronic games with an addictive quality. In the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), Internet Gaming Disorder is listed as a condition for possible inclusion in subsequent editions of the manual. Some gaming sites even brag about the addictive nature of electronic games. No wonder fans of the online multi-player game World of Warcraft sometimes refer to it as “World of Warcrack.”
Attention to children’s particular stages of development can help ensure that the plethora of available technology is appropriate – and fun!