Setting Digital Boundaries for Our Kids
By Tracey Dowdy
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 38 percent of kids under the age of two use smartphones and iPads. Depending on your perspective that statistic can be inspiring or cause for concern.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a new study and with it recommendations on technology use and how best to teach our kids to be mindful citizens of a digital world.
Parents magazine advisor Ari Brown, M.D., Chair of the AAP’s Children, Adolescents, and Media Leadership Working Group, points out, “We are here to help parents. We know the challenges and we want to be realistic in our approach. As a pediatrician and a mom, I have personally struggled with how to advise families (and my own family) with the explosion of technology as there are many benefits, but definitely some concerns.” In other words, finding a balance is key.
Pediatrician Dr. Donald Shifrin notes, “The most dangerous thing we can do for youngsters nowadays is to deny them access to the digital world. But the second most dangerous thing is to give them unlimited access.”
So how do we follow Dr. Shifrin’s advice and find that balance? How much is too much and how little is too little? Fortunately, there are a few other factors to consider and by following these tips it will be easier to set boundaries for your little ones and continue those healthy habits as your kids get older.
- Start by being a good role model. If your kids only ever see the top of your head because you’re always looking down at your phone or tablet, they’re learning that what’s on a screen is generally more important than what’s going on around them. Put down your device and engage in face to face conversation, making eye contact and consciously engaging with your child. Give and take conversations, learning to read body language, and hearing you use words in sentences are critical to a child’s vocabulary and general language development.
- As in every area of a toddler’s life, boundaries are crucial. We set bedtimes, playtime, schedule our meals and snacks and screen time should be no different. Consider establishing rules like equal time for imaginative play indoors or outdoors for every hour spent online. We had a “no phones at the table” rule with our girls growing up. Those dinner conversations are some of our best memories and we still laugh at the stories we told.
- Stay engaged with your kids while they’re online. Even if the game or activity is simple enough for them to do on their own, play with them when you can. Letting them lose or teaching them to wait their turn is a big part of learning sportsmanship.
- Just because the app claims to be educational doesn’t mean it is. There are thousands of “educational” apps available for download but many don’t live up to the label and provide little cognitive value for your kids. Do your research and look for suggestions from trusted sources like The Online Mom to help you determine which free and paid apps are worth downloading.
Finally, keep your boundaries age appropriate and don’t forget to be flexible. As I mentioned earlier, while face-to-face interaction is best and limited screen time for kids under two is ideal, don’t beat yourself up if you pop your little sweetheart in front of your iPad so you can brush your teeth or make a cup of coffee. On a personal note, although the Barney theme song makes my teeth ache to this day with its sugary sweetness, I loved that giant purple dinosaur’s videos for buying me time to run to the bathroom or start dinner in peace.
Parenting is arguably the hardest job you’ll ever do, so take the advice in this article, give yourself some leeway, and adapt what works best for you and your family.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.