How can tech for kids be a positive experience? With proper rules, role modelling, self-awareness, and parental guidance, it can.

There’s no escaping the fact that tech for kids surrounds your children – no matter what age they are. From apps that soothe babies to sleep, to those that teach preschoolers to read, technology is, and probably will always be, a part of our lives. However, when used correctly, technology can have a positive impact on children, Dr Jiow Hee Jhee, Assistant Professor of Health and Social Sciences at the Singapore Institute of Technology and member of the Media Literacy Council, says.

(See also: Help your child Get Better Marks with these Tech Tools)


Why Tech can be Good for Kids

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Technology can be a tool that aids your child’s daily functions, says Dr Jiow. “What you have to do is to ensure that your children master the tool and not let the tool master them,” he adds. He tells us how it has helped his children in their daily lives.

#1: It aids in communication
Dr Jiow’s children regularly talk to their cousins who live overseas through the use of an app on the tablet.

#2: It helps in their learning
When Dr Jiow’s young children need to find out the meaning of a word, they use the dictionary feature on their tech tools. Sometimes they also play educational games on the tablet. His older children use laptops to do their schoolwork. While they are not a substitute for a teacher’s expert guidance or a parent’s help, “apps like ABCmouse, EndlessReader and KhanAcademy can enhance children’s literacy and maths,” Psychologist Dr Natalie Games of Alliance Professional Counselling adds.

#3: It can be a platform for creative expression
Dr Jiow’s children use an app to create stories. He also knows of children who create videos or music, or practise photo or video editing in order to explore their creative side.

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#4: It can be empowering
Tech tools help children learn in fun and engaging ways, express their creativity and stay connected to others, says Dr Games. Studies show that children who have interpersonal relationship difficulties learn how to engage socially through the online world. However, research has also shown that connecting online can increase anxiety in real-time situations, so caution is still needed in this area.

#6: It helps children with special needs
Technology empowers special-needs students and enables them to excel in the classroom and in the community, says Dr Games. “Special-needs students find learning via e-readers, computers and software more engaging. Because lessons through such devices can be personalised, children with learning disabilities are able to handle even advanced lessons and reach their fullest potential.”

#7: It prepares children for the future
Children who are tech-savvy will be better prepared for a predominantly digital workforce.

(See also: Should my Child have a Mobile Phone?)

Rules for Kids using Tech

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The truth is, tech is here to stay in our lives. It’ll be an even bigger part of our children’s lives so teach them to use it wisely now. As parents, plug in, but don’t tune out.

One of the main factors that motivates children to use tech is social pressure. Dr Jiow shares that it is largely the children’s friends, classmates and relatives who start the children off in using technology.

“I have heard stories where children hear about a new video game, or an interesting video, or a wonderful app, from their classmates,” he elaborates. “With their friends using it and talking about it in school, the child is motivated to use it, and eventually asks his/her parents for it. Children will feel left out of social conversations if they don’t engage in the same digital journey as their friends. Parents don’t have to prevent, but they should exercise discernment to guide their children through this phase.” Here’s how you can do it.

• Monitor their screen time
Psychologist Dr Natalie Games of Alliance Professional Counselling emphasises that balance is key. In addition, parents must monitor their child’s screen time. “Tech can be a great tool at providing information, connecting you with friends, and providing services of convenience. It can also be detrimental to your quality of life, like distracting from homework, making you tired, taking time away from family and friends,” she cautions.

• Get involved
Get to know more about the digital/media activities that your child engages in, says Dr Jiow. “There are some video games that start off innocuously, but as the child plays more and levels up in the video game, he/she may encounter more harmful content or interactions.”

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• Be a good role model
Practicing and demonstrating mindful use of technology is the best way to teach children the crucial skill of unplugging, says Dr Games. For every hour of ‘screen time’ that your child gets, make sure there’s an hour or more of ‘green time’ as well.

• Unplug in the bedroom
“Make sure there are no electronics in the bedroom. Tech is not a ‘friend’ and shouldn’t be used as a ‘digital babysitter’,” says Dr Games.

• Set family tech rules
This helps your child learn how to self-regulate and offers an opportunity for you to experience the virtual world together. However, keep in mind that what works for one child may not work for another. Tailor your approach, taking into consideration their age, maturity and your child’s individual personality.

 

Learn how technology can help your child at British Council’s upcoming parenting seminar. Raising the Future: The Tech Generation happens on 23 March 2019. Here, Dr Jiow Hee Jhee, and other technology and education experts will share what technology means for your child today and in the future. They will also give advice and practical tips on tech usage for children. Click here for more information.

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