I’m sure we’ve all witnessed how young children navigate an iPad with miraculous ease or find their favorite app on mom’s smart phone in record time. The intuitiveness is astounding and it seems to be present in even the youngest of kids – babies and toddlers. What do all these devices and content mean for their little lives? And how do we as parents manage it all to make sure our children are well-rounded and happy?
As a mother of two young girls and founder of a children’s TV network, I am no stranger to kids and technology. That said, I can recall the first time my eldest daughter discovered a feature on my phone that I didn’t even know existed! I was shocked to say the least, yet filled with a mother’s pride. In today’s technological world, I believe there’s a way to embrace it all and maintain a healthy balance at the same time.
What Does Screen Media Provide For Our Children
It used to be that there were only a few baby DVDs on the market. Today, however, babies and toddlers have thousands of mobile and tablet apps made just for them, and websites and educational television shows developed specifically for their unique capabilities. The good thing is that with all these choices, parents are empowered to select the right type of content for their little one.
What do all of these products do for our children? One study has revealed that educational screen media can actually teach our children. A University of Montevallo study (ranked No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report for education) took a group of children 3-1/2-years old and younger, and divided them into two groups. Both were given instruction in American Sign Language, but one group was taught in a traditional teacher-classroom setting, while the other received lessons through interactive TV, with subtitles prompting parents to perform specific tasks with their children, while they watched together. Results from the study showed that the interactive television group had greater proficiency with the skills they had learned.
In addition to learning new concepts, screen media and devices provide a variety of other benefits. For one, they allow parents and children to bond through a new experience. Often times I hear from dads that they just don’t know what to do with their 1-year-old. Engaging together with an iBook, for example, gives them an opportunity to curl up together and explore a story. Another benefit to technology is that it nurtures hand-eye coordination and serves as a manipulative skills learning toy. It can also give children a sense of accomplishment when they complete an online lesson or select the correct answer in a mobile game.
How Do We Find the Balance
It makes sense that parents are timid about all this new technology. Some might even cringe when they think about how their children gravitate toward it. But I challenge myself and other moms to embrace this age of technology and take control of it. Here are a few tips that might help to ensure our children are balanced, happy, little people:
- Do your research. This may go without saying, since moms are among the most research savvy consumers out there. But definitely take the time to read the reviews on apps and ask friends what educational TV shows they have discovered. There are more options than ever before, but it’s true that not all are created equal. Pay close attention to who is behind the product to ensure the creators are credible educators and/or psychologists that understand the unique needs of young children.
- Limit screen time. We all know how much children love repetition. The words, ‘Again! Again!’ ring in our ears almost daily as toddlers are growing and exploring. As with any activity, it’s important to set limits that are right for your child and your family.
- Use technology together. Sometimes it’s helpful to pass back your phone when your toddler is having a tough time on the long car ride or waiting for their mac and cheese in a restaurant. But when you’re at home, it’s nice to watch TV, explore websites and use apps together with your child. It gives you one-on-one time and also provides you with an opportunity to take the new word or number your baby is learning beyond the device. As an example, you can reinforce the color red when you’re cutting a tomato or when you’re playing with a toy fire truck.
- Alternate screen time with other activities. Maybe it goes without saying, but as great as technology is for our families – we definitely need to balance it with other important staples of childhood and growing up. Get outside and play, read together at bedtime and invite that new neighbor over for a play date. Our kids will be better equipped and more well-rounded as a result.
Technology is here to stay. While we continue to wade through this job called parenting, educational and age-appropriate content and devices can be an excellent tool for introducing new concepts to our babies and toddlers in a fun way. Enjoy the moments of discovery together and relax. You’ve got things under control!
Sharon Rechter, along with business partner, Guy Oranim, conceptualized and co-founded BabyFirst (www.babyfirsttv.com), which is a global TV channel for tots. In her role as executive vice president, she leads the business development and marketing activities for the company – with a clear passion to bring quality, new educational programming to families of babies and toddlers. Rechter has a broad background in television programming and recently served as the vice president and head of operations for The Israeli Network (the Israeli television channel in the U.S.). She was responsible for the general management of the network, and focused on areas including business development, advertising and subscriptions. Before entering the television broadcast industry, Rechter headed the strategic planning department at GNS Advertising in Israel where she was responsible for developing strategic plans for a variety of lifestyle brands.