Recently, there has been an ongoing debate of whether to encourage or ban the use of smartphones or handheld devices for young children. Cris Rowan has given 10 reasons why handheld devices should be banned for children under the age of 12 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cris-rowan/10-reasons-why-handheld-devices-should-be-banned_b_4899218.html). On the contrary, Megan Ebert has given 10 reasons why she will continue to give her children handheld devices (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/megan-egbert/10-reasons-why-i-will-continue-to-give-my-children-handheld-devices_b_5009840.html).
Like many debates, parents probably realize that both sides hold valid points. What parents need are guidelines that help delineate specific situations when letting young children use a smartphone is alright as it serves a higher purpose, and instances where young children should not be glued to a smartphone. The following are my guidelines.
Top 5 Situations to Encourage Smartphone Use
Encouraging communication with extended family.
My family unit in Singapore is small – it’s my daughter, my husband and I. The rest of our extended family spreads from the United States to Australia. When my six-year-old asks to use the smartphone to take a picture of her latest artwork to show grandma in Malaysia or asks to send a video of her violin progress to her cousins in Australia, I believe technology is facilitating long-distance communication.
Rather than playing games on the smartphone, my daughter prefers REAL travel friendly games. The only “game” that my daughter plays is the spelling and sentence construction game via typing messages to family using messaging apps. It works as a game because of the smart spelling function – once you type the first 2 or 3 letters, the phone gives you several options of the word you are spelling; so, that’s how she has learnt to sight read numerous words.
We model the use of google to find out information. When we were at a bread style café, she asks me, is it possible to make bread without yeast? Well, I don’t know the process exactly so I tell her, let’s look it up. We find out how it’s done in 5 minutes, close the internet browser on the phone, and continue with our meal with a nice conversation on bread making.
Point 3 leads to this point. How can a smartphone enable creativity? With boundaries drawn (my limit is 4-5 pictures a week), she takes a photo and fiddles with photo-editing apps; she adds borders, and changes the look or colors. It’s a quick ten-minute exercise that gives her a thrill.
Instilling awareness about cybersafety.
Even if you ban your kid from using a smartphone, one of her friends will probably have one. It is likely that there will be a friend who will pity your kid’s technology exile and let your kid use hers. If you are actively involved with your children’s smartphone use, then you can help your kid become street smart in the mobile world and learn how to avoid the ghettos of cyberspace.
Top 5 Situations to Discourage Smartphone Use.
No smartphones below the age of 2
Have you seen how attached toddlers get to their pacifiers? Without them, toddlers become cranky. When you give babies a smartphone just to make meal time more tolerable, it becomes their best buddy they can’t live without. They can’t eat or drink without staring at the colors and sound.
No smartphones during mealtimes
This rule is a tough one. No smartphones during mealtimes for EVERYONE. This rule is a challenge for me too but I believe family mealtimes should be sacred. We are running around the whole day, barely exchanging more than a few sentences. Mealtimes should be a time where we talk, laugh and share our stories.
No smartphones without supervision.
Just like computers and television, smartphones should not be a babysitter. Parents need to be involved with their children’s smartphone use. I know it’s challenging because when my daughter was younger, my helpers were Barney and Mickey; but, there was a price to pay. When she was three plus, I was told her concentration levels were not good. Hence, we went cold turkey, and in 3 months we started seeing the increase in her concentration levels. As for babysitters, Barney and Mickey were replaced with interactive toys such as I Spy Bags, My Quiet Book, or My Busy Books.
No smartphones before bedtime.
We have a ritual of reading before bedtime. In case you think I am anti-television, let me reassure you, I LOVE television. When I was 8 or 9, I used to watch roughly 4 to 5 hours of television a day with my granddad, until my father got fed up that one night, he literally tied me up next to a television. I stood lassoed next to a television for 30 minutes. It was a lesson I have never forgotten.
No screen time for more than 2 hours a day.
The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that babies aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to technology at all. For older children, their total screen time should be limited to 2 hours per day. One study found that greater than 2 hours of screen viewing a day was related to higher levels of psychological difficulties.
I’m glad I don’t need to nag my daughter about her TV or technology use; in fact, I’m amazed that she naturally switches off the TV after watching a program. She has learned that there is much more to life than playing with a smartphone. She loves to draw, read, or scooter around the playground. Once when I caught her daydreaming, she told me about an elaborate story of how Sweet Sweet (her stuffed rabbit) is putting Maggie, the teddy bear, in jail. Not exactly the stuff of pink bows and unicorns but I’ll take Sweet Sweet incarcerating Maggie over Ms Smarty Phone, thank you.
How do you limit your children’s smartphone use?