How to tell if your little one can’t get enough of technology and how to gently wean them off
Kids love phones and tablets, and that should surprise no one. After all, they see us (their parents) using them all the time so it is just natural that they also want in on the action! Sure, a little screen time is ok, but how do you tell when your kid’s love for technology has become an unhealthy obsession?
1. Early Signs: The first symptoms can appear very early on, even before that first bite of solid food. These signs involve your baby achieving a development milestone in a way that is connected to technology.
Did your baby learn to crawl while trying to grab your phone? Don’t worry, that’s actually quite normal these days. But if your kid’s first word was iPhone instead of Mama or Dada, that should raise some flags.
2. Tech Savviness: Phones and tablets are not designed for small untrained hands, so if before turning 3, your kid can unlock your phone/tablet easily and find their way to their favourite apps all by themselves, you might want to keep an eye on their mobile usage.
If, on top of that, your little tot has already learned to avoid clicking on the annoying ads that pop-up on his favourite app or game, then either a) your kid is a prodigy (because I personally always end up clicking on those annoying ads) or b) your kid is spending way too much time with the device. Consider enrolling him in karate or music class.
3. The NanniPad: Is there a specific activity or situation during your kids daily routine that MUST include a mobile or tablet, otherwise all hell will break loose? For example: watching videos on the tablet while eating.
The problem here is that the device has taken over an activity which otherwise would involve other type of social interaction. The longer it goes on, the harder it is to change. But I am a father myself, I know how tempting it is to reach for the iPad when baby is a fussy eater and sh*t starts hitting the fan (or your clothes)…
4. The Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Your kid has big mood swings before and after using technology. Do your kids’ eyes sparkle when they see you reach for your phone? Do they suddenly become incredibly clingy? Do your kids go bananas if you don’t give them your phone or tablet on demand? Do you have to fight to get the device back? Do they become incredibly moody after playing with the device?
Because inhibitory portions of children’s brains aren’t fully developed, it may be harder for kids to shut down their impulse to play. The drama that occurs when an iPad or other mobile device is taken away gives sure signs of this lack of self-control, which might be aggravated by repetitive games and the mental strain of playing and looking at a small screen for a long time.
5. Ownership: You have lost ownership of your device. It all started with you showing your kid a video on your phone, then progressed to letting him/her play a kid’s game, and before you know it your kid started asking for “his/her” iPad and beating all your records on Candy Crush. Not cool, my dear, not cool.
It is very important to remain in control of the use of the mobile device and to establish limits as to what can be done with it and what can’t, ideally by overseeing the use or better yet, using it together.
6. Selective Play: Your kid gets bored and has lost interest in traditional toys and books. If it’s got no over-the-top sound effects, no torturing repetitive song, or blinding flashes of colours and movements, your kid won’t touch it, it’s just too boring!
Many mobile games and apps overstimulate kids and after becoming used to that, it’s hard to appreciate the fun of playing with Mr. Teddy Bear! It’s like growing up watching only funny colourful Bollywood movies and then being forced to watch a slow paced French movie without subtitles… ugh!
7. Anticipation: The last thing your kid says before falling asleep is: “please remember to charge my phone!” If your kid can already anticipate that he is going to need battery to keep using it the next day, that is a clear sign of addiction!
If, on top of that, he asks you to also charge an external USB Power Bank, then I am afraid your kid is beyond recovery. Either he will move on to become the next Steve Jobs, or he will become a tech zombie like… well, like the vast majority of us.
Okay, so your kid’s a bit too attached to the phone or the tablet. What to do about it?
1. Don’t just remove technology completely from your kids’ life. Forbidding something just increases its appeal and therefore reinforces the obsession with it. It’s just natural to want what we can’t have, especially when you see the rest of the world using that same thing! So go ahead and allow for technology use, but apply the following tips to make sure the usage keeps a healthy pattern.
2. Don’t use technology as a threat or a reward. That’s like advertising that the device is so awesome, your kids’ behavior should be influenced by it. Don’t do that, it is the easy way, but it will do more harm than good.
3. Establish a daily routine for usage of the device (with an allotted time). Ideally, make it an interactive activity (not alone time!) and choose apps/games that offer variety and don’t encourage addictive behaviours. Scores, rankings, unlocking new levels, these are all game components designed to increase addiction. Try to keep those out of the reach of the youngest kids. Instead, you might want to check apps like the one my company developed, Luke & Mary: Baby Games and Nursery Rhymes (IOS version, Android version), which is completely free, has no ads and is designed to enhance parent-child communication.
Wish you the best of luck. Unfortunately, we know for a fact that kids will eventually grow up, and end up like most of us, tech zombies. But childhood is a time of growth, learning and discovery, so let’s make sure that they can see a bigger picture than the one that fits a screen. And on that note, let’s try ourselves, as parents to be a good example. Let’s free ourselves (a bit) from our devices, especially when kids are around.