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Saturday, 25 January 2014 08:00

The Year of The LeapPad: Children and Technology

Considering my husband does computer 'stuff' for a living, we're actually a pretty low-tech family. We watch some television and movies, but between Clara's afternoon tv 'quiet' time and our evening TV/movie watching, I think I can safely say that on average, our television is on less than 4 hours per day.  That applies only to the days that the TV is on at all - there are many days when we get out of the house for various activities and on those days our TV watching is less or even non-existent. I don't mean to judge or condemn families that spend more time in front of the television, but I am pretty happy with and proud of our TV habits. 

Also, up until this Christmas, Clara has had virtually no experience with computers and unlike many 3 year olds I've seen - she would have no clue how to open and play a game on my cell phone.  This was the year, however, that we decided it was time to get Clara her own computer. 

Enter the Leap Pad2.

So far she doesn't spend all that much time playing on this computer, and there are a few things that are still quite difficult for her. The touch screen is less sensitive than the screen on our cell phones - probably for strength and durability reasons - and sometimes Clara struggles with impatience when the LeapPad doesn't respond to her touch right away.  Her impatience means that so far we haven't even considered limiting her time playing with the LeapPad, because she rarely lasts more than about 20 minutes anyway before she becomes distracted by something else. 

Her favourite things so far are the books, since they mostly play themselves and all she has to do is turn the pages.  She is also interested in the movie maker app that came with the LeapPad, although creating movies are a bit beyond her capability just yet. I think she will really enjoy this activity in a year or two.  I'm disappointed with the battery life of this particular LeapPad, but we plan to purchase a battery pack for $30 which will solve that problem. 

All of this makes me think about the concept of 'screen time' and what our family rules will be surrounding this particular thing. I recall a rant I heard in college by a young man who believed that all TV - especially documentaries - were rotting our brains. He argued that watching educational television made it less enjoyable for us to read and learn from a textbook, and I had to agree that after awhile of not reading, I found it more difficult to concentrate on reading. For this reason, I want to encourage my kids to spend less time using technology than is generally accepted by our culture today - don't get me started on laptops in elementary school... 

I recently read an article that brought up a lot of interesting points on this topic. It was in the December 2013 issue of Parents Magazine (the print issue), and of course I can't remember what the article was called - I actually think it was a quiz about how 'tech smart' you (the parent) are about your children and technology.

One thing the article brought up was the idea that 'screen time' should apply to everyone in the household - that not just the children should be subject to limitations, but the parents as well. I completely agree with this, because I think too much screen time is bad for anyone and the best way to teach our children is to model the kind of behaviour we want from them. Also, when there is no TV on distracting us, we are more likely to engage in our children in productive and relationship-developing ways. 

Another idea that the article brought up - which I wouldn't have considered myself - was to NOT count the hours.  The idea behind not counting the hours was based on the fact that not all days are the same, and if you introduce the idea that each child 'gets' a certain amount of screen time, they are more likely to demand it or expect it on days when your schedule is maybe too busy to fit in technology.  For example, you may have a 'free' day in your week when no one has to go anywhere (our 'free' day is Monday) and there may be lots of time for children to do their schoolwork and chores, watch TV and play outside while still leaving time to watch two or three hours of TV.  Another day, however, may leave only a couple of hours at home after lessons, visits, shopping etc. and during those few hours the child still may need to complete their schoolwork and chores - making it unrealistic to allow them their 'allotted' television time when the day just doesn't really allow it. 

Another principle brought up in this article that I wouldn't have agreed with before hearing their argument is that a parent shouldn't use screen time as a reward or a punishment - for example, if a child is rude or doesn't clean up their room to take away their 'screen time' for the day.  This sort of goes along with the previous point about not wanting to encourage the idea of entitlement as well as not wanting to give 'screen time' more importance than it deserves. The principle here being that if it becomes a reward or punishment, the child might start desiring screen time more than otherwise because the parent has elevated it in the child's eyes. 

One principle that the article mentioned that I completely agree with is the idea of having no screens in bedrooms. For a few reasons, one of course being safety for children - it is more difficult to get involved in scary chatrooms when the computer is in a main room where parents can look over shoulders at any moment. Another reason for no screens in the bedroom is because TV and computers stimulate the brain in a way that makes it difficult for most people to get good, solid sleep.  One thing I appreciate about our girls having to share such a small bedroom is that we don't really have the option of filling their room with all kinds of toys and books, because there really isn't room for any more than the two toddler-sized beds and dressers that are already in there.  It will be easy to lay out their room in such a way that makes it useful only for sleeping, getting dressed and eventually reading - so their rooms can always be a place of calm. Hopefully. 

What are your thoughts on electronics and whether they should be limited at all, or not? Do you have rules in your house for TV, computer or internet use, and what are your rules?




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