SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting

April 2013

Kids & Technological Gadgets

Mobile phones, MP3 players, iPads, and numerous other technological gadgets have revolutionised the way we interact with our world. While these latest gadgets offer us adults convenience, cost savings, and quick ways to work, communicate with family and friends, shop and stay informed and entertained, they open up many contentious areas for families and children.

I want my children to grow up having the skills to thrive in an increasingly high-tech world. After all, I can only guess at the future world my kids will live in as adults. Technology has also offered me a handy way to keep a wriggly young child occupied while waiting for our turn at the doctor’s office or during a long train ride.

My struggle as a parent has been sifting through the large amounts of parenting advice out there about children’s usage of technological devices, and creating the balance that’s right for my family.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children younger than two do not watch any video content on a television, computer or other mobile device. This is because of the way babies’ and toddlers’ brains develop. While a baby may stare at the movement and bright colours on a screen, his brain is not able to comprehend that the images represent equivalents in real-life. This ability develops only after age two.

Research also suggests that screen viewing adversely affects a young child’s language skills, reading skills and short-term memory. However, after the age of two, some preschoolers are able to learn literacy, maths, problem-solving and prosocial skills from well-designed and interactive programs and games.

With school-age kids, educators have voiced concerns about heavy screen usage affecting kids’ attention spans and their ability to think critically and creatively. The AAP suggests limiting older kids’ screen time to two hours daily.

As my preschoolers grow into their primary school years, my biggest concern has been about what the youngsters are not able to do when they are plugged into screens. They miss out
on physical activity and outdoor play; kids develop holistically as they run, climb and explore out in the real world. Time spent on screen time could also have been spent interacting face-to-face with siblings, extended family and friends.

I have chosen to raise my kids on a blend of technology and lots of opportunities for painting, craft and other activities that allow for creative expression. Outdoor activity and sport add to the mix.

Exposing my youngsters to a variety of online activities such as reading informative articles, doing science research, using dictionaries and encyclopaedias, and translating phrases from one language to another are some of the meaningful ways we have been able to incorporate technology into our everyday lives.

My older children began using mobile phones in the past few years. This seemingly minor step for a child growing up in the 2010s sent me into a quandary; was I acknowledging a real need, or simply going with what many other parents do? What sort of phones do tweens really need? What sorts of limits should we set right at the beginning? What is the overall message I wanted my children to take away about using mobile phones and other tech gadgets? And maybe in this whole thing, there was a teachable moment for my kids. As it turns out, I am the one who has learnt a thing or two about parenting preteens from the i-generation!


Preadolescent children have emerged from early childhood with a different range of cognitive capabilities. Their relationships with peers and other adults also take on different facets as they begin to form their very own world view. I wanted to embrace this while staying relevant and spunky.

Mobile phones help me reach my kids easily when they are away from home doing co-curricular activities or attending supplementary classes at school. When they face problems, I know they can reach me. I am thankful for this long-distance connectivity we now have!

Yet, I wanted to establish boundaries for what is acceptable and unacceptable for my family. I also wanted to teach about responsible behaviour when communicating in text messages. We reached our middleground by identifying ‘no-phone zones’, ‘no-phone times’ (school, family time, mealtimes and bedtimes), and other rules guiding general phone behaviour.

Tech gadgets that allow kids Internet access raise other issues. While online predators, unsavoury online relationships and reaching inappropriate online content are the most obvious worries, other more subtle worries also gnaw at parents. These include messages from the media that run counter to the individual family’s values, gender stereotyping in pop culture or violence in the media.

Most kids have to deal with quite a bit of mixed messaging about technology use. Limits have to be discussed and established again when my kids spend time with friends from families with different rules or when they receive different ideas from society. This is the case when we take buses or the MRT, and almost everyone is hooked up to a device.

My next challenge then, was teaching my children to discern what they see and read in the media. Consuming media together provides springboards for discussions. When I cannot be present, asking the kids about the media they’ve used helps them reflect on the messages they have encountered. While I share my personal values, it has become equally important to listen to what the kids have to say.

For myself, I wonder whether using tech gadgets has meant that I am now distracted and less present for my children. Admittedly, it has become all-too-easy to brush off the children with a curt ‘It’s work-related!’. I am finding my way by setting aside time for work, then disconnecting myself from my tech devices to focus on my children.

Despite living in a very high-tech world, I see the value of keeping that inimitable high-touch connection with my kids. After all, how we use technology and gadgets in our daily lives is much more than a simple lifestyle choice; it is a reflection of our philosophy and priorities.

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Kids & Technological Gadgets