iPads have been all the rage ever since Apple released them back in 2010. In fact, the number of over 400 million sold devices speaks volumes about their popularity. These devices are being handed in schools; they are loaded with apps for learning and honing different skills; they are even used to help autistic children communicate.
However, one can hardly avoid all the reports on toddlers becoming addicted to tablets and games lowering their attention span.
In truth, an iPad or any other tablet can be a great resource for kids. Various apps can help your children learn to read, write, or do math in a fun interactive way.
However, there are several mistakes people make when they let their children discover the wonders of a touchscreen.
iPads are Not Substitute for Parental Attention
For one, an iPad is not a babysitter or a substitute for your attention. In this busy, busy world, many parents hardly have the time to do their daily chores and spend quality time with their children. Handing out a tablet in substitute for TV might seem like a good idea. And many parents let out a sigh of relief when they hand their child an iPad. This way they buy some precious time for themselves in the firm belief that their child is spending their time in a productive and educational manner.
The educational apps are there to help you help your child develop some cognitive processes or enhance their skills at reading (Endless Alphabet), writing, spatial reasoning (Smart Baby Shapes) or maths. However, tablets are not devised to do that instead of you.
Social contact and interaction are very important parts of the learning process. Going through those motions is very important for a child’s social and emotional development as well.
Screen time – it applies to iPads too
This is especially true for younger children and toddlers who are at a very impressionable period of their life.
Toddlers are only beginning to develop their social skills and learning to communicate with people around them. It is not surprising that spending their time interacting with a colorful screen that obeys their every command does nothing towards developing their interaction skills with people and functioning in the real world.
If you use this gadget with them, however, children can benefit both from interaction with you and the resources it has to offer.
Games, even educational ones, can be loads of fun and especially appealing to children because of their colorful design, interactivity, and fast pace.
On one hand, they are good for improving hand-eye coordination and reasoning, but because they are so responsive they can also shorten children’s attention span. Kids can get used to colorful images exchanging quickly, a new picture available at every touch at the screen, but this also means that other things (not happening on tablets) will seem too dull and slow and a child will quickly lose interest.
Let them play games, but be aware that screen time does not only apply to TV. It is of crucial importance when it comes to tablets/ iPads too. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep for children under 5 years of age screen time has to be minimized.
The new guidelines issued on April 24, 2019, quote “Toddlers should spend no more than 60 minutes passively watching a screen every day, while babies under 12 months should have none, to ensure that they grow up fit and well”.
All Things in Moderation – even iPads
It should also be noted that using a tablet as a substitute for other activities is probably not the wisest idea.
Real building blocks will still help your child develop coordination, spatial, and dimensional reasoning, as well as a sense of balance much better than an app with virtual ones.
Even though painting on a screen is much cleaner than actual finger painting, it provides only a fragment of stimuli. Sticking fingers in paint and painting with them stimulates your child’s sense of sight, smell, hearing and especially touch, feeling different textures of paper and paint and how they change when the two mix. This is a very important part of cognitive development and should not be thrown aside in the name of cleanliness.
Useful tools and resources for parents
It seems that Apple has been listening to the concerns raised by parents and caregivers worldwide and acted on it.
Apple products have always had options that can help parents monitor their kids’ activity and prevent unwanted installations or removal of apps and setting an age-appropriate content rating. The newest update from October 7, 2019, provides an additional set of (parental) features called Screen Time.
The name is pretty self-explanatory – you can set the parameters like when and how your kids can use the iPad. There’s the option of setting the Downtime during which your child won’t be able to use the iPad and other useful features like creating app limits for games. When the time expires, a child can ask/request for more and the parent can approve or deny their request from their iPad or iPhone.
Family Sharing works with Screen Time and allows the entire family to share apps, music, and videos. Parents can adjust the settings from their devices and apart from apps and games, they can control the purchases their kids request on App Store, iTunes, and Apple Books. Those days of unwanted in-app purchases are gone because the child now needs to request to make a purchase and the parent has the power to approve or deny the request from their device. A great thing about this feature is that it’s automatically turned on for children under 13.
Common Sense Media gathers parents, educators, and policymakers and provides a space where they can rate and share their reviews of any type of media content, apps, and educational material and give recommendations for other parents, families, and schools. The age-appropriate reviews are there to help parents and other caregivers navigate the fast-changing digital landscape and a place for the community whose main goal is to protect the well-being of children.
When it comes to your child’s iPad specifically, there is a great Apps & Games section where parents can learn how to choose the right age-appropriate games and apps for their children and prevent unwanted in-app purchases, problematic content, privacy and security-related issues, and online safety.
Still, it would be wise for you to personally review the apps. Because what someone considers appropriate might not work for you, and vice versa.
This is not to say that you should hide iPads in the closet, or bury it in the yard. Tablets can be a great resource and tool for education and development. But remember, all things should come in moderation – and also, under your supervision.
Just like an episode of Dora the Explorer, a day can be a fun and educational experience for your child, However, a marathon of the same (or any other) show will likely have more negative than positive effects. It is just the same with iPads and iPad apps.
This article is part of our series on Generation Alpha
We seek to provide answers to your most pressing questions about keeping your kids safe online, introducing them to the digital world, and helping them be their authentic selves online.
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