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Are Smart Devices Safe For Our Children?

From apps like “Baby Piano” to the latest episode of “Peppa Pig” — our digital devices keep little ones occupied, and give us a much needed break in our busy day. Developers claim that the apps are educational, and we could use the free hands — but are tablets and smartphones actually healthy for young kids?

Little boy iPad flying

More and more, children of a very early age are using iPads and smartphones. Ofcom’s Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report confirms that usage is on the rise, but none of us are really sure if this is a good or bad thing.

In terms of their physical health, the worry over radiation from mobile phones has receded somewhat in recent years, however in 2011 the World Health Organisation classed mobile phones as Group 2B “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. This includes our precious iPads with 4G connection. Cancer Research UK would consider this evidence for risk, but on the whole, nothing terribly worrying.

While some parents happily hand over their smart device, others are concerned about the developmental impact this new technology may have on their children. So who is right? If we limit or deny access to these smart devices, are we in turn depriving our children of technological intelligence, or are we actually keeping them safe? The difficulty for parents is that the dangers of smart device use for children, if there are any, are still unknown — and research is still only in it’s infancy.

When it comes down to it, parents need to do what is best for their individual family. A study out of Georgetown University recommended limiting screen time but not cutting it out completely. They also suggested some really helpful tips in making the most out the time.

  • When your child is using a smart device, try to make sure what they are watching or playing is actually educational, and if possible, interactive. Something that could help your child learn to count, or recite their ABCs, or something that asks questions and encourages rhetoric is always a better option than passive screen watching.
  • If your child is watching a programme on a smart device, it is better to watch it with them if possible, than to use it as a babysitter. Of course sometimes we all need a digital babysitter, however pointing things out on the screen, and asking your child questions about what he/she sees can enable them to learn more from the time spent. Having support to interpret the content enriches children’s experiences and in turn, expands their learning.
  • Try and help your child make the connection between what they see on the screen and what exists in the real world. If they’re playing on an app that involves blocks or a ball, be sure to use blocks or a ball in real life and label the objects so that they make the association.
  • It may be hard, but it’s also a good idea to limit your own screen time. Studies have found that when parents spend too much time interacting with their smart devices, their children become more likely to act out in an effort to get their attention.

Mother_Child_iPad

There is nothing quite like the bond between children and parents, and no app can ever replace that. Smart devices can certainly enrich learning and entertain, but it’s probably best to do so in moderation. Maybe it’s time we all power down for the day.

The right Paediatrician can be a great resource in educating parents about technology and online behaviours. To help you in your search, we’ve shortlisted some of the UK’s top Paediatricians – enabling parents to more easily navigate through this increasingly complex digital world.

[For more articles, see our Useful Articles]