How to know if a child is developmentally ready for a smartphone, social media, and other tech?
Photo by Robo Wunderkind on Unsplash
More classrooms worldwide are implementing technologies as educational assets. From augmented reality to TikTok, the best-case scenario promises increased learning opportunities and heightened intellectual advancement by leveraging tech. However, navigating a world where machines advance too fast for humans — notably parents — to keep up is challenging. So, how can parents find the best time to expose their children to the countless wonders and drawbacks of early tech acceptance?
Considering developmental influences
Phones, computers, video games, and social media are a constant wave of uninterrupted stimuli. It shapes brain chemistry by encouraging curiosity while promoting short attention spans and instant gratification. How can parents find the optimal time to get the positives of technology without risking too many toxic influences?
Children develop at various times based on influences like parenting style, genetic differences, cultural traditions, and environmental impacts, but a few baselines can guide parents. It’s vital to have a technologically accepting mentality. It’s possible to introduce technology to all kids regardless of age, but it’s about the intention, frequency, and variety of technology being presented at what times.
Know the basic timelines
The technology could stunt development if adults misconstrue these considerations. Knowing the recommended timelines to introduce certain types of technology can provide touchpoints as parents analyze their unique circumstances:
- Before the age of one: Beneficial to introduce technological toys, such as battery-operated light-up toys or items that make respond to buttons to generate lights and sounds. It helps children understand cause and effect.
- 1-year-old to 3-year-old: Educational, interactive television and YouTube videos and electronics with text like e-readers promote early text-to-screen understanding and reading comprehension.
- 3-year-old to 5-year-old: Using apps under supervision at parental discretion, such as shape puzzles or digital coloring pages.
Most crucial development occurs within these first five years. However, the development encompasses more than the brain or ability to learn. It includes emotional awareness, motor skills, and countless other nuances. The technology could impact all of them in excess, regardless of if parents follow these suggestions and minimize tablet or phone interactivity.
Notice the severity of emotional responses
Online toxicity through social media and video games are a few examples that demonstrate how aggressive digital communities can be. Test your child’s emotional response to challenges and social situations to know if they have the emotional resilience to resist peer pressure. In the first years of development, toddlers learn to self-soothe and respond to stimuli — these change when impacted by tech.
Kids interacting with these channels too early can’t find calmness without technological exposure and are more prone to responding with volatility to unpredictable situations or simple requests. Suppose they can react to tidying after themselves without throwing tantrums or listening when asked to stay quiet for a few. In that case, it signals maturity and emotional understanding that would’ve otherwise excess exposure to digital environments compromise.
Analyze interpersonal interactions
Social media is one of the most emotionally complex entities on the planet, testing children’s development beyond their comprehension as algorithms that are smarter than people constantly feed information to scrolling eyes at unprecedented rates. Seeing how they interact with different kinds of people will reflect how they would respond in social media environments, signaling their empathetic and social abilities.
Suppose they can handle conflict with friends gracefully, respond to authority figures respectfully, and express needs and wants with emotional awareness. Teachers can help with this by communicating their student evaluations to parents, affirming their perceptions of their kid’s abilities. In that case, these are ideal developmental signals showing the child may use social media responsibly.
Nothing is certain, as interacting with foreign environments may force developing children to interact with never-before-seen social interactions like hate speech or grief. Solid communication and parental guidance over these platforms will ensure healthy adjustment periods in these new realms. Parents can question how well the kids learn after these novel interactions and information overload and adjust if necessary.
Ask children about their intentions
What’s the reason the child wants to engage with technology? Do they want to use it as a creative outlet or a mindless distraction? Why do they need a smartphone or want to create a Facebook account? Setting a precedent early in development for kids to have freedom of expression should make genuine responses to these questions a certainty. Here are some questions to guide the conversation to see if they have healthy expectations for technological use:
- Is the primary reason for a smartphone to stay in touch with loved ones, for entertainment, or both?
- Are any decisions to participate in these technologies related to peer pressure?
- How do you intend to ensure regular unplugged times and prevent scrolling for hours?
- Do you understand we may have to set boundaries if tech use becomes excessive?
- Are you OK with us discussing responsible tech use before you create any accounts, such as privacy?
Mature answers to these questions signify a willingness to learn about technology while being aware of its impact. Children may feel resistant, so it’s important not to micromanage so they maintain open communications about tech use. Additionally, discussing intentions before diving in headfirst will allow parents to hold their kids accountable. For example, if they said they wanted to use it primarily for communicating with friends, but the child is thoughtlessly watching YouTube Shorts all day, you can ignore punishment until asking, “What caused the shift?”
Developing before technology
There are ways to test the waters before letting kids dive into technology. Development ranges from emotional awareness to having growth spurts at the right time. Looking to developmental recommendations is an ideal place to start, but seeing how well children communicate, react, and learn will be the other developmental cues that signify their technological readiness.