Digital Device Use: from Tiny Tykes to Teens

By Robin Beaver, Director of Technology and Rita Smith, Director of Early Childhood

teacher and student working on a digital tablet

Rita Smith, Director of Early Childhood, works with a student on a digital tablet.

It is quite likely that many of our children found new digital devices under the Christmas tree this year. How exciting! But now what? These devices have become ubiquitous but so have studies and reports warning of their misuse while touting their value. We are living in the year 2017; technology is not going anywhere so what is a parent to do? Well, if you can’t beat them, then join them — just educate yourself first! We thought we would take this opportunity to share some guidelines for helping your children make the most of that new device without sliding into digital oblivion.

Let’s start with the opportunities. There are some really great ways to use these powerful tools—beyond over-connecting with friends and playing Flappy Birds! Here are a few ideas:

  • Other, more active and creative ideas include:
    • Create a family timeline with photos and stories—be sure to involve grandparents and family members of all ages.
    • Research a local landmark and add it to Google Earth!
    • Get into Geocaching.
    • Learn to code—create your own online game.
    • Go virtual—get an inexpensive virtual reality viewer (like Google Cardboard) and start exploring!
  • For a wealth of resources for interactive academic games, skill building, Internet Safety, Test Prep, and more, explore the Web Ways resource page on the Holy Child School at Rosemont website.
Students using a document camera to examine tree branch

Students use a document camera and computer for up-close study of a tree branch

Looking for fun things to do when it is time to put the screens away? How about family game night, a long walk, cooking together or maybe one of these tempting choices?

And now let’s consider the challenges. How much time should a child or young adult spend in front of a screen? What should they be doing? Where can parents get help? Here are our suggestions and some guidelines from other experts in the field.

  • To start with, here are some suggestions we offered in a blog that we posted last February. (As we re-read this post, it occurred to us that there were far fewer people checking their cell phones during this year’s Christmas Program than last, so that is progress!) Also, this Spotlight on Parenting, published in October 2014, offers advice that is just as valid today.
  • Screen time guidelines are all over the place these days, but what experts do agree on is that while it should never be used as a babysitter, for younger children especially, time spent on screens with a parent can actually be beneficial.
  • Screen time should ideally be limited (based on the child’s age) and never outpace the amount of time a child spends away from the screen engaging with others, taking part in physical activity, or working with their hands.
  • Children need to become discerning users of media. While obviously super important for Lower and Middle School students, even the youngest child should be encouraged to dissect the images they are seeing and evaluate the source and accuracy of the information they are consuming.
  • Make a Family Media Use Plan. Be as clear as possible with your children as to your expectations for their use of digital media—amount of time spent, types of activities that are allowed and NOT allowed, what level of privacy they can expect, and what to do if they become uncomfortable with anything they see or hear online.

Using technology continues to be all about balance and moderation. The key is to become an active part of your child’s media experience—no matter their age! The time (and discipline) you take now will pay off in the end.

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