A #parent’s #guide to #toddlers with #tech

If your three-year-old navigates your iPhone and tablet for long hours, don’t be proud. Here’s why.

Mumbai-MirrorI am rather indiscriminate about Keisha’s use of handheld gadgets,” admits 33-year-old Shahnaz Jain, as she looks on at her two-and-a-half-year-old toddler. The tot, says Jain, navigates iOS, Android and Blackberry systems since she was one, thanks to all the gadgets Jain and her husband, Ketan use. Keisha uses a phone and iPad to listen to nursery rhymes, play the `piano’, sketch and differentiate between shapes. “We don’t have games on our gadgets. All the apps that have been downloaded are for her, and age-specific,” points out Jain, a PR professional.

With most children now exposed to technology at a very young age, (as early as one year sometimes), there’s a growing concern among experts about their effect on cognitive development.

Dr Vibha Krishnamurthy, a developmental paediatrician and founder of Ummeed Child Development Centre, says, while technology helps children learn to respond to stimulus, it has its downside.

Use tech for learning

Eighty per cent of the growth of a child’s mental growth occurs in the first two years. This is when it learns language skills and becomes responsive to human interaction. “Even making the child listen to Einstein’s tapes will not help if there’s no human interface,” she says, adding that parents who wish to use the several educational applications on these gadgets should sit with the child, as they would with a book, and point out pictures, body parts or sing rhymes. “This helps in the development of long-term social interaction. Unfortunately, far too often, technology is used as a substitute for human interaction, which is far from helpful,” she adds.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics, infants aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to technology, while those between 3-5 years should be restricted to it for one hour per day, and those between 6-18 years should be allowed two hours per day.

Studies have shown that stimulation to a developing brain caused by overexposure to technolo gies (cell phones, Internet, iPads, TV) is associated with executive functioning and attention deficit, cognitive delays, impaired learning, increased impulsivity and decreased ability to self-regulate, for example, tantrums.

Quit tech when dining

A post in June in the popular ‘Humans of Bombay’ page on a social networking site, had a middle-aged man talk about how he learnt to use technology because of a young relative who would eat only when she’d have a tablet at hand to browse.

It’s the age-old parental dilem ma: how do you get your child to sit in one place and eat a meal in time for you to be able to finish other chores. And TV (whether it’s popular cartoons or a movie), or games on tab lets have often saved the hour. This practice, while it does get the child to finish his/ her food, is detrimental in the long-term to their relationship with food, warns Dr Krishnamurthy.

“It’s very tempting but the child doesn’t realise when the stomach is full. Kids learn to eat passively, much like adults who finish a bag of chips in front of the TV. This is a time when children should be taught to make healthy choices,” she says.

Meal times, she adds, is that they are social occasions when parents and children share their experiences. “Being immersed in a tablet gives the signal that meal times are a chore,” she adds.

Cap hours, monitor content

Jain, a Chembur resident, has done her research on the effects of technology on children. “I am not very worried about Keisha getting addicted,” she says, adding, “She has access to gadgets only when we or her maternal grandmother are around. And she doesn’t throw tantrums when I take the phone or tablet from her. It’s an out-ofmind, out-of-sight equation with her,” she adds, pointing out that the tablet hasn’t replaced physical play in the park.

As long as the amount of time and content is controlled, agrees child psychiatrist Dr Pervin Dadachanji, there is no harm in introducing your kid to gadgets.

“Till the time my son was two, he would not watch TV serials. However, when he joined school there’d be other children talking about serials and this got him interested. He would come back wanting to watch those,” says Dr Dadachanji, adding that while her son was then allowed to watch TV, the time was limited to half an hour and what he watched was monitored.

“You can’t allow your child to play violent games that involve killing someone or destroying something to get to the next level. If they use a gadget to say, mix colours it is okay,” she says.

Use free time constructively

Dr Dadachanji points out that with most parents structuring each hour of their child’s day -tuition classes, extracurricular activity -there’s very little free time available to kids.

“When they are suddenly faced with free time they don’t know what to do and get bored. Parents hand them a gadget instead of allowing a child’s imagination to allow him/her to think of something to do,” she says, “Kids using technology is fine, as long as the tablet doesn’t become your baby sitter.”

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