Should we ban handheld devices for children or not? Let us look at what is going on here and whether this is really a practical suggestion or not for parents We shall look at the fact that the tender age of toddlers is no barrier to using these high tech devices (cell phones, tablets, computer games). We now know that about 33% of kids under the age of two or three can use one of these gadgets before they can even talk! An article in the The Daily Telegraph warns of the dangers parents face when their kids are allowed to use a tablet or smartphone for a few hours a day. The long-term effects can be disastrous as is witnessed by a four-year-old girl who had to have therapy to get her off this addiction. That is one good reason why handheld devices should be banned. But there are also sound reasons why they should not be prohibited. Read on!
Concerns about the known effects
Let us look at what the experts, such as pediatricians have to say about this. The Kaiser Foundation reports that to-day’s kids are media-saturated and overuse by children is almost the norm. They also have all sorts of media in their bedrooms and they alarmingly report that their parents do not do very much to control their exposure to the media. This report covers kids from 8 – 18 years old.
The American Academy of Paediatrics does not recommend a total ban, except for infants. Toddlers should have no more than one hour of exposure a day while the rest of the kids, up to the age of eighteen should be restricted to about 2 hours a day. Nobody is following these guidelines, it seems, and kids’ exposure is way over the limit as we have seen with the two-year-olds!
The case against banning handheld devices
Some people say that all these devices are important for a child’s development. They will need to keep up to date with technology so why not start them off early? They will be using them more and more in school and when doing homework. They will need all this tech stuff when they go to college and start applying for jobs later in life.
What about keeping in touch with playmates and family? These devices are an incredibly powerful information resource. Look at what you can look up on the Internet, the photos you can take and keep as happy memories. Not to mention entertainment and digital reading. Banning them, which is impossible, would exclude them from the digital age. That would be detrimental to their education in my view.
The case for banning handheld devices
Many kids are getting shortchanged on the human contact that they need. There is little reading, touching, playing and human connection is severely reduced. The child’s path to healthy development must be to have real communication with the parents who will teach, support and love them. But handheld devices are replacing parents and there are concerns about the known effects. Talk at family meals is now reduced to a minimum.
Watch a family eat a pizza in a restaurant. When the devices are not forbidden, everybody is totally engrossed and real communication is practically nil. But to argue that the fault for parenting failure and family conflict is caused by digital media in the hands of everybody is making a gross statement. These facts are not really backed up by scientific experiments. It will not prevent bullying either. Cyberbullying and revenge porn exist but there are lots of cases of normal bullying as well. The main issue is that we cannot blame our digital technology for bad parenting. There are many more issues involved such as :
- authoritarian vs. permissive parenting
- socio-economic levels
- comfortable housing
- parental role models
What is the answer?
Courage’s and Howe’s research papers show how media can be a positive influence in the child’s development. To say that handheld devices are the cause of so many problems among our children is taking a very superficial view indeed. The decision to ban handheld devices for children could never be an easy one.
How should we approach parenting and the use of electronic media within the family to ensure there is not overuse by children. The obvious answer is to make sure that there is a reasonable balance.
This can easily be done by following these 10 steps:
1. The TV is great! It can open new vistas in entertainment, information, general knowledge. But it can expose kids to violence, cruelty, and can have a negative effect on their behavior. The average American child will have seen 200,000 acts of violence and 60,000 murders on TV by the time they reach 18. A lot of discussion about how damaging this is but most studies say that there is a link between the violence on TV and children’s violent behavior. There may, of course, be other influences involved. The simplest approach is to make sure that it does not dominate your quality time with kids at mealtimes or it does not take away from time spent on going out together or playing sports. This is why watching too much TV is linked to obesity. We just need to keep in mind that most 2-5-year-olds spend about 30 hours a week in front of the TV. That is not a healthy average!
2. In 66% of homes, the TV is on during every meal time. Is your home one of those?
3. Forget about TV programs especially for toddlers. These are just a clever ploy to advertise toys, games and unhealthy food. This is why they got such a bad press.
4. Give preferential treatment to reading, either traditional books or ebooks and make sure that TV and other media are not taking time from that. Reading requires the child to think and learn. That is one reason against the case for banning handheld devices. An e-reader is an excellent way of stimulating the desire to read. The TV and computer games are far too passive to be of much assistance in their brain development.
5. Make sure that TVs and tablets are banned form kids’ bedrooms. There are enough studies to show that once they start using their cell phones in bed, they will get to sleep 10 minutes later, sleepless and the quality of their sleep will be negatively affected.
6. Limit your own screen time and always be a good role model. For example, do you turn off your iPad each time you get home so that your quality with kids (at least for the first half hour or so) is not interrupted by these devices?
7. Make sure you have parental control settings installed on your kids’ computer even if they are in the common area. It is still necessary.
8. The bone marrow in a child’s head is likely to absorb 10 times more radiation than an adult’s. That means limiting cellphone time too. Less use of infant apps such as One Fish Two Fish and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is advisable if they are taking away from your quality time with your child. Better to have more laps than apps!
9. Encourage your kids to use a headset when on their phones and also to get a metal case which is some protection against radiation. About 31 million kids in the USA are on their cell phones for about 4 hours a day. That is a lot of exposure to microwave radiation and must be reduced. Who said that type of radiation was healthy?? Apparently, according to some Swedish researchers, cordless phones are even more damaging to health than cell phones!
10. You can encourage kids to make shorter phone calls. Two minutes is a good average to aim for. Set the example yourself. Make an iPhone parent-child contract. Also, show them that texts are much quicker, safer and cheaper! Only use the phone where the signal is strong. In the car, fast trains or anywhere where the signal is weak, it will increase the power it takes to get the signal, thereby emitting more radiation. These are practical ways we can reduce concerns about the known effects on our health.
So, there we have it
The key to whether to ban handheld devices for children or not is to aim for a reasonable balance of activities. We must not let the kids’ lives or ours be taken over by media. Time to be more human and fewer media addicted.