Determining when to give children tech

In September, my wife and I will be having our first child. It’s an exciting time, but it has caused us to discuss a lot of things I hadn’t considered before . . . really important things.

No, I’m not talking about the child’s name, though I suppose that is important. I’m talking about when we should give our child technology.

My wife and I love technology, and we use it at all hours of the day. Growing up, the earliest I can remember having my own devices was maybe my sophomore year of high school. I had a hand-me-down Compaq laptop and a used Palm Pilot . . . because I was a huge nerd. However, I didn’t get my own cellphone until my senior year of high school, and I only got it when I could afford to pay for it myself.

Of course, times have changed, and in this day and age, we have to start considering when we will allow our own child to have access, especially when it comes to cellphones. They make keeping in contact so easy, and knowing how I was as a youth, I think I will want to keep in touch with my child. I don’t want to have to rely on the kindness of a stranger to bring my son or daughter home when he or she runs out of gas trying to get home in time for curfew . . . my father wasn’t very pleased when this happened to me. If I had a cellphone, I could have just called for help, but waking him up in that fashion probably would have created a whole host of other issues for me. Maybe it was for the best I didn’t have a cellphone.

However, I digress.

A simple Google search brings up scores of articles providing advice about what age is most appropriate to give children technology. Cris Rowan of The Huffington Post explains 10 reasons access should be limited to children under the age of 12, such as brain growth, delayed development, obesity, sleep deprivation, mental illness, aggression, digital dementia, addiction, radiation, and overuse. In short, Rowan paints a dire picture, but it doesn’t seem completely valid. I’m an educator. I know technology is used in classrooms at early ages. Of course, that use is regulated, and that seems to be key.

I think technology can be beneficial in learning, but even technology-based education tools may not be as effective as marketers would want you to think, as is highlighted in Cory Turner’s NPR piece titled, “The Trouble With Talking Toys.” Writing for The TelegraphJosie Gurney-Read suggests, citing the American Academy of Pediatrics, “that children under 2 should be discouraged from using technology and that preschool children should not be watching television or using digital devices for more than two hours a day.”

Laura Lewis Brown of PBS outlines suggestions for dealing with the question of when to put technology in the hands of children. Brian X. Chen of The New York Times approached the question of when a child should get a cellphone, which in this day and age is undoubtedly a smartphone. He reported the following:

The longer you wait to give your children a smartphone, the better. Some experts said 12 was the ideal age, while others said 14. All agreed later was safer because smartphones can be addictive distractions that detract from schoolwork while exposing children to issues like online bullies, child predators or sexting.

However, none of the articles I have read give a definitive answer. There is clearly no one-size-fits-all approach to this. Every article says something to extent of parents need to determine the appropriate age for their children to have technology.

So, reading up on the issue hasn’t been very helpful for my wife and I. However, we are both educators and relatively intelligent. Surely we can come up with a plan. After all, we have time. September is some time away, and the child will at least need to master holding its head up before we sign it up for its own cell plan.

Our current plan is to not let our child use technology until he or she is around the age of 5 when we feel the child will be able to understand limits we impose upon the use. We will not, under any circumstances, be giving the child one of our cellphones to play with because we don’t want our phones cluttered with random games and sticky fingerprints. We will be willing to allow games to be played on one of our iPads or other tablets, but he or she will not be given his or her own tablet until at least age 10. Likewise, the child might get a cellphone around the same age, but it won’t be a smartphone. It will be a simple device that can be used to keep in touch with us. No frills. Just utility.

As I write this, though, I realize we haven’t really talked about Internet use. I suppose that will line up with having his or her own tablet. That’s when we will deal with that, unless it becomes clear Internet use is going to be necessary for his or her school work.

And television. We watch television a lot, but we are also huge readers. We will have to strike a balance. Again, though, we have time to work out the details. Clearly this won’t be an easy process, and we will have to adapt as we go. In fact, all our current thoughts on the matter might change. Nothing is written in stone, but at least we are thinking about it, right? We just need to keep in mind that moderation is key, regardless of what we actually end up doing.

Oh, and no video games. I’m not a gamer, and I don’t care for them. If he or she wants to play video games, I’m sure he or she can find a friend that has them and go to that person’s house.