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How to determine your child's digital diet

Blog Post Teaser Image As reported on Channel 9’s 60 Minutes recently young children are becoming hooked on their parents’ Ipads, IPhones and other digital devices to the detriment of their language and intellectual development. 

Using the television as an electronic babysitter has long been considered poor parenting.

Now that’s old school as parents of children as young as two use digital technology to keep their children amused. This is an age when children’s brains are rapidly changing and habits are becoming hard-wired. There is evidence to suggest that children under the age of three shouldn’t use digital technology at all. After that age it should be phased in wisely.

Here are some guidelines for children’s digital and Internet use:

0-3 years: Avoid using digital technology with this age group. Human interaction is paramount during this stage of high curiosity, high imagination and high learning. It’s a time of high language learning that’s best stimulated through human interaction. It’s also an age when the brain is forming lifelong connections so it’s a high habit-forming stage.

3-6 years: Allow children a maximum of an hour’s supervised digital use a day during this stage. This is an age to build on children’s basic language skills and build their readiness for the next social stage of their development, and for school. Stick to digital technology for educational uses such as development of pre-reading, reading and maths skills. Adults should look for opportunities to play with and talk through what they do.

6-9 years: Extend to a maximum of ten hours a week incorporating mainly educational use and some games. During this stage children benefit from a broad range of physical, social and intellectual experiences before they start to specialise in adolescence. Avoid allowing the use of digital games to take up all of a child’s free time, as is the norm for an increasing number of kids.

9-12 years: Children at this age are more able to integrate digital media into their daily lives. Adults play a part in monitoring how they use digital media and encouraging kids to be discerning and critical online users. Online safety, suitability of content and maintaining a balance between the real world and the offline world are critical issues for parents at this stage.

12 + years: There are many items a teenager would ditch before they ejected a mobile digital device from their lives. For most young people the digital experience is integral to almost everything they do. Perhaps kids who live on the margins are at greatest risk in this age group. That is, the kids who don’t quite fit in; who struggle academically or those with little balance or interests other than those found online.

Science is only just discovering how highly addictive Internet use can be. It’s use changes the patterns in the brain, which is concerning as for teenagers as this is the cohort most open to developing addictive behaviours.

The digital world offers exciting opportunities for kids and a range of experiences for the whole family. It can entertaining, educational and rewarding – with new avenues to create, connect and communicate.

Only now we are starting to see the risks associated with children being linked to the digital world. The early signs are that adults need to err on the side of caution and conservatism and certainly think twice before handing over a mobile digital device to keep a child occupied.

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