Tablets for Children: Be Sure to Set Limits

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Last week, we talked about the risks of letting toddlers play with iPads and other tablets. But how about school-aged children, who are often exposed through friends, school, and others?

Our child psychologists express some concerns about the long-term impact of so much screen time, but acknowledge tablets and other technologies do have some benefits.

“I do think iPads have a place in our culture, as technology makes things more efficient,” said child psychologist and mom Britlan Malek, PhD. “But parents need to take charge and make an informed decision on how they’re going to use them.”

She advises against basing appropriate apps and products on companies’ claims, as they usually aren’t based on any real research. When choosing appropriate apps and products, Dr. Malek suggests thinking about the real educational benefit of the product. For example, there is no reason for a 6 year old to learn the periodic table.

Behavior Challenges
Dr. Malek says that often, technology causes behavioral struggles between children and parents. Children want the iPad when they want it, however they can get it. That may mean throwing temper tantrums or acting out.

Too often, she says, parents just give in. She notes that parents who are great with setting limits with other things – junk food, bed time, etc. – are often quick to give in to a child’s demands for use of the tablet.

“Parents have to feel empowered to take charge of the device and set limits,” says Dr. Malek “If you give a little, they just want more.”

Setting Limits
Here are some tips for setting limits when using iPads and other devices:
  • Screen times need to be given as specific, predetermined time
  • Never give the tablet in response to behavior
  • Never give it as reward
  • Never give it as a way to keep the child quiet
Dr. Malek adds that it’s very important not to make it a reward, such as giving it to a child after homework, because it makes it more desirable. “It’s better to have predetermined times, where the child gets it for a certain amount of time every day, and then you move along.”

And what about for long trips, when children have to sit still for long periods of time? She says it’s ok to use the ipad or other technology, but setting limits is still important.

She suggests allowing children to use the tablet for 30 minutes, then offer them something to read, play games together, or do some other family activity.

And one other point Dr. Malek stresses: consistency is key. With most parenting lessons I’ve learned, it’s important to be consistent. She says parents need to maintain the rules with the technology, and the children will follow along.

Do you let your kids use a tablet? If so, what rules do you have?


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