Toddlers and Technology: Finding a Balance Between Banishment and Overuse

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Pretty much straight out of the womb, my kids wanted to touch my phone, type on my computer, play video games, and watch television shows. At first, I feared my kids would become addicted, or their brains would rot out from looking at all of those screens and I’d be left with little zombies who were only interested in mindlessly consuming electronics.

All of the dangers that I’d heard about technological overuse ran through my head. I worried that my children would develop attention problems from watching T.V. I’d read something once about how the images changing rapidly on the screen could have negative effects on developing brains and I found myself becoming anxious when the television was on in their presence.

I over-analyzed every show that was on, and tried to determine if the transitions between images occurred quickly or slowly, making myself crazy, silently assessing whether or not each particular show was causing long-term brain damage. I worried my children would become incapable of thinking creatively because they’d become so used to technology shaping their interactions during playtime.

There are only so many choices of how one can play an online game, or how an app can be manipulated on a phone. By giving a fixed set of options, there is a reduction in decision making and open-ended creativity that exist when children play games of their own making. I worried about my children not getting enough exercise or fresh air. I worried about their muscles becoming mush and that they would have weakened hearts as adults because they might never want to play outside again.

Given all of those fears, it was easy for me to understand why some parents promote total elimination of technology. I decided that even with my concerns, banishment wasn’t the answer for my children.

There are benefits to my kid’s use of technology. My child practices recognizing her letters when she types on an open Google doc. She is learning where those letters exist on a qwerty keyboard, a skill she’ll need when she enters school. She knows how much pressure needs to be applied to a touch screen when she swipes and selects. She knows how to choose Netflix or Youtube, depending on which show she wants to watch. She’s gaining some significant digital literacy skills, something that’s going to be important for her in this technology-rich world she’s growing up in.

It’s natural to have concerns about overuse, but I think it’s just as detrimental for a child to have under-use.  Playing with technology now is teaching her to be comfortable figuring out how to use technology later. The importance of this cannot be stressed enough and it is something that many of us in older generations really struggle with.

I know I tend to get frustrated when I have to learn to operate a new app or a new device. It’s just not something my brain is used to dealing with. My children will be so much more competent in this area. In fact, I’d argue they are already ARE more competent.

At the age of two, my daughter was playing with my phone and she cropped one of the photographs that I had taken. At that time, I didn’t even know I COULD crop photos because I’d avoided learning all of the features my photo gallery offered. My kids won’t be annoyed that they have to learn how to work their technology, they’ll focus instead on using it as the useful tool it was intended to be.
After reflecting on how access to technology requires balance, I realize it’s really no different than how I choose to parent in other areas. I limit, but I don’t banish sweets. I have a bedtime window I adhere to, but sometimes I let my kids stay up late. I let my kids play outside in the Sun, but not for twelve hours straight and definitely not without sunscreen. I understand that will all things, moderation is key and I can set limits and teach skills about how to use technology just like I can about everything else.

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