5 - 8 Years

// Is my child ‘addicted’ to technology?

I don’t believe that children eight years and under are addicted to technology. They can certainly form obsessive or compulsive relationships with technology – the techno tantrums that result from asking for our smart phone to be returned are intense (I’ve weathered the storm too!) But this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re addicted. Addiction is a behavioural disorder and young children are still developing their behaviours. Many children haven’t yet mastered self-regulation skills, so I don’t believe that they can be diagnosed as ‘addicted’ to technology (by 8 years of age).

Kids can become dependent on technology. Much like a substance dependence, children can develop a tolerance to technology and need more and more of it to reach the same level of pleasure. They can also experience withdrawal symptoms (neurobiological changes in the brain) if they suddenly have to stop or are unable to use the technology. This is a dependence, not addiction.

As parents, it’s our responsibility to make sure children understand how to manage technology.We need to reframe our thinking as parents. Instead of considering our child’s technology obsession as an addiction, we need think of it as an unhealthy attachment to technology and overuse. As parents we need to set strong boundaries when it comes to screen time so children can form healthy relationships.

If you’re concerned that your child’s technology habits are unhealthy and may need treatment, here are some ‘red flags’: (a) an inability to switch off from devices, so much so that it is at the expense of other activities like outdoor play; (b) they are constantly pre-occupied with gadgets; (c) they withdraw from social situations or activities that they previously enjoyed; (d) they are agitated or bored when they cannot use a device; (e) for school-aged children, their school performance wanes. If you have any concerns it is always best to talk about this to your family doctor and/or a child psychologist.

TECHNO-TIP: Start conversations about appropriate use of technology the very first time you hand over your smartphone to a toddler. Set very clear boundaries about how long children can use digital devices and
stick to them!

TECHNO-TIP: Model good media habits yourself. I know, this is a tricky one to implement, but children absorb our media habits. It is essential that we show them how to switch off devices. Create some ‘technology- free’ zones in your house (for example, the dinner table may be a scared space). Have designated technology-free time (for example, screen-free Sundays).

TECHNO-TIP: Keep bedrooms as gadget-free zones. We have increasing evidence that shows that screen-use in the 90 minutes before sleep time can cause sleep delays in children, which over time results in a sleep deficit.

// I think technology for kids is great in moderation, but my partner disagrees. How can we come to an agreement?

Our children will inherit a digital world, so it’s imperative that we show them how to form healthy and helpful media habits. Banning or ignoring technology isn’t a viable or long-term solution. We need to find the best ways to use technology with young children in ways that will support, not damage their development.

It’s really all about a balanced approach. It’s important to remember, that we need to balance kids time online and offline. We need to balance their screen time with their green time. We need to balance the time they spend playing online, with the time they spend playing outdoors and with peers and siblings. We need to balance the time they spend staring at screens, with time to stare at the sky.

I recommend that all families, whether they love or loathe technology, establish a Family Media Management plan . This will help you to come to an agreement about what, when, where, with whom and how much time your children can spend with technology.

// I use the iPad to calm my child down every now and then. Is this harmful (even in moderation)?

It’s certainly very tempting to hand over an iPhone to a screaming child when every other trick, distraction and strategy has failed to calm them down, or ease their frustration. Many modern parents admit to using iPads and iPhones to avert a meltdown or tantrum.

But as a children’s technology and development expert (and a mum!) I’m worried about the long-term impacts on children’s emotional development if we do this all the time!

As a parent I also acknowledge that from time to time I use the digital pacifier. And it works! And it’s fast!

We just need to be mindful that we’re not always pacifying children with gadgets! Every now and then it’s unlikely to have long-term or adverse implications.

We need to allow our children to feel ‘big’ feelings. It’s good for children to experience boredom and frustration. We don’t want to teach them to numb these feelings with screens.

Before you frantically reach for your smartphone or tablet to hand over to avert or end a tantrum ask yourself, “Is it better, in the long run for my child to screen, or to scream? What’s going to serve them best?”
Handing over an iPhone might provide temporary relief from the situation at hand, but what’s the long-term impact if we do it all the time? Our kids can’t learn to self-regulate when they’re clutching a screen in their hands.

Also be mindful about when you hand over the digital pacifier- the 90-minute window before sleep time should really be screen-free to avoid sleep delays.

// How can I manage the amount of screen-time my child has each day?

Remember how much screen time your child watches/uses is only one consideration when considering if your child’s digital habits are healthy and helpful. We also need to consider what children are watching or creating online and also what their screen time is displacing What’s the opportunity cost?).

To keep track of time, parents can use a range of resources including the clock app on your device (set the alarm and your child won’t argue with you when their time has elapsed), a good old-fashioned egg timer (provides great visual cue for younger children), or screen time apps such as ScreenTime and Our Pact.

Most importantly, establish limits before they get on a device (not once they’re on it and you’re trying to wrangle it from their hands). Clear guidelines and parameters are essential.

// How can I keep my child safe on You Tube?

Regardless of how sophisticated your Internet filter is, there’s no way to completely guarantee your child’s safety when using You Tube. Here are some preventive measures that you can implement to reduce the likelihood that your child will encounter inappropriate material.

Use You Tube with your child- this isn’t the easiest tip to implement, but it’s by far the most effective. Co-viewing not only has educational benefits for your child, but it is also the best way to ensure their safety online.
Turn on Safety Mode when using YouTube/strong> – this blocks inappropriate materials such as pornographic or objectionable language. (It’s important to note that this feature is not 100% accurate as it relies on other users flagging content as inappropriate.)
Create playlists on YouTube - create a list of videos that you’re happy for your child to watch and only allow them to vide from this playlist.
• Use You Tube curation apps- use an app like iTubeList to create a playlist of appropriate videos. This minimises the chances that our children can access inappropriate content.
Use You Tube Kids - Google have released a child-friendly version of You Tube. It’s important to note that this doesn’t guarantee that the videos your child can access are age-appropriate. There are also mounting concerns that children’s advertisers are flocking to this platform to market directly towards kids.

// Why does my child like watching You Tube so much?

Unboxing videos, where children literally watch other children unwrap toys on You Tube, have become increasingly popular. Kids are mesmerised by manicured or tiny hands that hover over toy boxes and slowly unwrap packages and gifts. Unboxing videos have attracted thousands, even millions of viewers and are a lucrative business for somevideo creators.

So why do they become so engrossed with these videos?

The anticipation associated with unwrapping a gift actually releases adrenaline and endorphins in the brain. So when they’re viewing they’re having a neuro-biological response.

These lengthy advertorials are very different to 15-second TV commercials. As parents we need to be wary of this indirect form of advertising and consumerism. And consumerism can become addictive. It can release dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter and kids naturally want more and more of that feeling!

Basically, limit your child’s viewing of unboxing videos. Have strict limits on what they can watch and the exact number of episodes and try to co-view or ask them questions about what they were viewing.

// Is Minecraft okay for my child?
Minecraft is an online game where users build constructions in a 3D-generated world. It can be both educational and highly addictive for young children.

When playing Minecraft, as with some video games, children can develop higher order thinking skills. For example, they can develop problem-solving skills, measurement and estimation skills, creativity and logical-thinking skills. However, anecdotal reports from parents and teachers alike suggest that the game can be very addictive.

In essence, Minecraft per se is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It really depends on the child and how they use it (and for how long they play it). Basically, the child’s disposition and the level of their engagement with the game determine its impact.

TECHNO-TIP : Establish time limits and usage patterns in advance. For example, you may negotiate with your child that they will play Minecraft on certain days and for a specified period of time. This will reduce the likelihood that your child will become addicted to the game.

TECHNO-TIP: Ask your child to show you what they are creating in Minecraft. Not only does this encourage open dialogue between you and your child regarding technology (which you will certainly want when they are a teenager), but it also shows them that you are interested in what they are doing on-screen. It will also discourage them to engage in anything inappropriate if they know that they have to be accountable to Mum or Dad.