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  • Jamie Witham

Raised by Robots? How Much Access Should Children Have to Technology?

Updated: Oct 30, 2018

A latest study of a thousand parents has found that three out of four children under the age of five have access to either a tablet, smartphone or computer. At first this can sound a bit of a surprise but remember every child that has had a phone handed to them so they can play their favorite game or who has watched kids TV on a tablet alone falls into this category.

A study published by Childwise found that this year children are typically spending two hours and 48 minutes a day watching online videos. That has risen from two hours and 36 minutes last year.

Jenny Ehren, who is the research manager at Childwise, said: “The increasing use of connected devices by preschoolers this year may reflect growing access to on-demand services, especially subscription-based options such as Netflix which has quickly risen through the ranks over the last three to four years. Their list of favourite programmes is becoming more varied, and whilst many are drawn from across the different preschool channels, we are beginning to see more references to content exclusively available on YouTube and paid-for streaming services."

She added: “This year has seen a noticeable increase in gaming, with three out of ten under-fives now regularly exposed to video games, often as players, but also as spectators as well.”

Should Parent's be Worried?

Similar research published in Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, confirms concerns that heavy use of smartphones, tablets or televisions can have adverse effects on developing minds. But, the group who carried out the study are keen to highlight that as "the study captures a single snapshot in time" and that more time will be required to properly understand the effects of electronic devices.

So should parents worry? The concerning response from the scientific community is "Yes", you should. If your child is using a device excessively they become dependent on it, coupled with a lack of interaction time with friends and family, key social skills are undeveloped, while a lack of time spent with traditional toys prevents the development of important cognitive skills. Simply things like not point out a friendly dog to a child because they are on a mobile device can have implications down the line.

In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that a child should have no more than two hours of screen time a day, an hour of exercise and between nine to eleven hours of night-time sleep. New research has shown that an increase in screen time nearly always has an effect on both sleep and exercise, with a lack of both having a serious effect on child development. For children under two, it is recommended to have no screen time full-stop.

The issue we are currently experiencing as a society is that the effects of electronic devices on children takes a long time to research, assuming that the first children raised surrounded by mobile devices were born post 2010 the oldest they could be now is eight, which is far to early to draw concrete conclusions from and with most research only being started in the last two years experts believe it will be another 10 years before we have a firm answer. At the moment we only have early indicators, all of which are looking pretty poor, but by the time we get solid evidence it could be too late for an entire generation.

So What Should Parents Do?

As usual the answer is the "hard thing", we all know it is far easier to give an angry child their favorite video game but, deep down we all know it is probably the wrong thing to do. Instead experts believe focus should be on giving kids tactile toys, going to the park, playing eye-spy and generally just being a great parent! Unfortunately as easy as it is to let your phone raise your children it isn't the right thing to do, you are hurting their development and if history is correct you'll probably be the one to pay for it when they become teenagers!

But wait! Before you going burning all your tablets and phones, realise this, there is still a place for technology in children's lives. The digital world (pending a huge computer virus) isn't going anyway and cutting your kids off from tech completely is going to isolate them from this world. So instead of completely banishing the devices to the naughty step, manage them. For younger kids, spend a bit of time each week working through some educational content with them, play a fun learning game or watch a kids documentary together. The key here is, that the time is managed and it is spent together, by taking the insular part away from technology you can embrace the good. For older children allocate some time per-week, still spend some of it together but also allow them to play some age appropriate games. Limit this time to a set amount per-day or give them a weekly budget so they have to think how to use it best. It is important again they have some interaction with the digital world as many of these games will be key talking points on the playground.

Reading research online the overwhelming theme is, you need to control the time, only allow the devices indoors (if you are outside allow children to be immersed in their surroundings) and most importantly spend time with your children, at least that way it should be clear whether it is you raising them or the robots!

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