4 ways to bring up a tech-savvy tot

If you can’t beat ’em… Learn smart ways to make the most of the time junior spends on tech toys.

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Before they became parents, IT consultant Michael Rodriguez, 38, and his wife, Jamie Siow, 35, a stay-at-home-mum, vowed that they wouldn’t expose their young children to any form of technology.

“We kept hearing horror stories about kids getting addicted to the iPad and in some cases, too much screen time requiring them to wear glasses by age 3,” Siow said. “So, we decided to wait until our children were much older before allowing them any screen time.”

Fast forward two years and the couple now lets their 20-month-old son, Liam, enjoy occasional screen time. “It was hard to shelter him from technology because it’s everywhere,” Rodriguez points out. “Also, there are many educational and engaging apps that could benefit Liam.”

Michael and Jamie are among many parents today struggling to set clear boundaries for their mini-digital natives. Their dilemma — regulating tech usage even as they ensure that junior isn’t losing out on its advantages.

Whatever apps or programs they use should encourage them to think, learn, talk and sing — not just watch passively.

With technology a driving force in our world today, screen time is a very real aspect of modern parenting. Yet, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing, not when playing with the tablet or smartphone can help your little one hone their hand-eye coordination and even improve language skills.

Points out Dr Yang Chien-Hui, a senior lecturer at SIM University’s School of Human Development & Social Services, “A good age-appropriate educational software program can illustrate various social situations and model the appropriate behaviours and language for children.”

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) changed its tune after 15 years. The AAP had previously recommended that children under 2 years should not sit in front of a TV, or play on tablets or phones. In October 2015, it announced that it is revising its ironclad guidelines for children and screens. “In a world where ‘screen time’ is becoming simply ‘time’, our policies must evolve or become obsolete,” the AAP’s Dr Ari Brown said in a statement.

While you can’t escape technology, as with anything, moderation is key. Here are ways to keep you and your tyke on the right tech track:

1) Set age-appropriate screen-time limits

The effect technology has on little ones is amazing as the fussiest baby or tantrum-throwing toddler calms down in front of a flickering screen. However, Dr Yang recommends no more than 30 minutes of supervised screen time per day for children aged 2, 60 minutes for 3-year-olds, and 90 minutes for kids between 4-and 5-years-old.

Notes Shem Yao, a senior coach at Touch Cyber Wellness, which promotes cyber wellness, “Parental supervision should extend up until Primary school if possible, so that you can help them process and reinforce learning points.”

Load more for three more tips for techy tots…

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2) Be present

Be fully engaged with what your tot watches and see how they react to the content onscreen. Dr Yang suggests, “Talk, play, sing, ask questions, make eye contact and act out body movements at the same time.”

For example, after watching a video with junior about penguins, encourage them to imitate how a penguin walks. You can even show them how, first, or do it together with them. You’ll share some laughs, for sure!

3) Be selective

Not all the apps and online programs are appropriate for all age groups — for instance, your 3-year-old may not understand a program targeted at kids aged 5. Whatever apps or programs they use should encourage them to think, learn, talk and sing — not just watch passively. Go to Common Sense Media for ratings of kids’ apps using various criteria.

Yao also suggests checking out app and program reviews on mummy blogs and parenting sites, then ask yourself, “What do I want to gain from exposing my child to this app?” before you buy it.

Another tip — get an app that enriches the offline version of an activity. For instance, a numbers app that encourages a child to count real objects as well as digital ones offers benefits beyond the online program.

4) Milk real-life experiences

Remember, digital devices, however fancy and interesting, cannot replace parental interaction or your relationship with your child, says Dr Yang. So, let screen time kick off other learning and bonding experiences.

If your little one likes to play with an animal app, bring them to the zoo and ask them to name the animals they see there.

Yao suggests, “Use the karaoke version of your tyke’s favourite song to teach new words and how to read as you both sing.”

If your child is older and enjoys playing video games, join in! Play their favourite game with him and get a dialogue going, like asking what’s their favourite character’s name and what they enjoy most about the game. You could even organise family game nights!

Photo: iStock

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