In a digital age where adults and children alike are glued to smart phones and tablets, it’s hard to escape screen time. But how does screen time affect our children, and should they be using it at all? We examine the pros and cons of children using technology, how to gain the most from your digital devices and importantly, how to keep your children safe when doing so.
The benefits of technology
Whilst it is largely agreed that endless hours in front of a television is not good for a child’s development, the use of an interactive tablet is different. There are thousands of apps and websites available to encourage and enhance educational and personal development. Whilst some would argue that screen time does not have a place in the classroom, many parents and education providers are embracing technology and seeing positive results.
With the increasing use of tablets by pre-school and school age children (both at nursery, school and home) it’s interesting to see what benefits can be gained from this use.
A recent study conducted by Stranmillis University College in Northern Ireland found that portable devices impacted positively on the development of children’s numeracy, literacy and communication skills. Due to children associating play time with digital tablets, they were more interested and enthusiastic when partaking in educational activities on the devices.
In pre-school children, tablets have been shown to greatly assist in fine motor skill development and hand to eye coordination. Apps can be found to help children as young as one learn colours, shapes and first words. With many apps designed to start developing these skills from a very young age, it is notable how easily and quickly babies and toddlers pick up the use of tablets and are confident and able to use them correctly.
Additional benefits can be seen from tablet use in preschool children such as speech development, including sound recognition and pronunciation, literacy skills such as word recognition and numeracy skills including basic counting, basic mathematics and number pattern recognition.
Social skills and personal development
The use of learning through technology has also been shown to have a significant positive impact on personal and social behaviours including developing self-confidence, emotions and managing feelings. It can greatly assist in developing communication skills such as listening, improving attention span and encouraging understanding.
Safeguarding your children
There are a number of issues to consider when giving children of any age access to technology:
- Supervision at all times: ideally children should always be supervised while using iPads and tablets. Not only does supervision avoid access to any inappropriate content, but enjoying learning activities together is greatly beneficial to children’s progress.
- Parental controls: as with use of any technology (especially with internet access), parental controls should be applied to ensure children cannot accidentally find inappropriate content. Access can be restricted to age appropriate websites and apps very easily, meaning you can be certain that they are only viewing suitable content.
- Check apps carefully: Whilst apps or computer programs may seem age appropriate at first glance, it’s important to check the small print and see if they are as innocent as they seem. Any apps which allow camera access and have chat facilities should be looked at very carefully.
- Payment restrictions: more for your benefit than theirs, ensure you have switched off any autopayment options on your tablet or phone, so you don’t receive a nasty bill after an enthusiastic in-app purchase has been made without your knowledge.
- Set time restrictions: screen time, educational or not, should be limited to a number of hours per day. You can set access restrictions by times or you can just keep an eye on it. It’s tempting to keep the TV on all day as an easy distraction but too much screen time can affect children negatively, so make sure you know how much they are using their digital devices.
With so many apps available it’s hard to know where to begin when downloading content for your children. Below we have listed some of our favourites for young children (age 3+).
- Trucks by Duck Duck Moose – in this highly-rated, interactive truck-based activity for pre-schoolers, children can soap and rinse a car in a carwash, drive a garbage truck, tow a car, fix a flat tyre, dump dirt with a dumper truck, and play with a car and truck parade.
- Busy Things – created by award-winning developers who aim to combine fun and laughter with high quality curriculum-linked content, Busy Things apps include a range of activities covering problem solving, mathematics, shapes and exploration.
- Toca Boca – the Swedish app developers have a large library of apps, aimed at children aged 3-4 and above. The apps are each based on a different real-life scenario such as in a hospital, farm, office or school. Toca Boca pride themselves on capturing the power of play in a digital format.
- CBeebies – this free app brings together your child’s favourite TV characters and programmes in a fully interactive and educational format. If your house is familiar with Mr Tumble and Octonauts then look no further.
What’s the verdict?
Our children will undoubtedly grow up in a world filled with technology, most of which is advancing at an unprecedented rate. Whilst it pays to be careful and ensure your children are receiving a well-balanced and fully-rounded education, there’s no denying how useful tablets and technology can be. With supervision and appropriate content, tablets can be a great addition to your child’s development.