When you and I were little, being sat in front of a screen meant watching TV, but today there are a whole variety of different screen based activities competing for attention. Common wisdom was to manage the amount of television that young children were exposed to. Whatever the agreed limit, impose it regularly and don't oversexpose your little ones to too much.
Today there are likely to be screens all over the house, in your bags and pockets, possibly in the car too, whether it be televisions, computers, mobile phones, tablets, laptops, games consoles or even hi-fi's and other entertainment systems. Our children are undoubtedly growing up in a very different environment to the one that we grew up in, and it's important that they gain the right exposure to the right devices in the right ways. Children will use computers at school from an early age, so early exposure to them is not necessarily a bad thing. They may soon be using tablets at school, so again, controlled access is probably a better policy than prohibition.
As much as you may dislike technology, or feel uncomfortable with the level of exposure in everyday life, you could place your children at a disadvantage in life if you prohibit them from accessing televisions, computers and even games consoles. As with television in days gone by, adopt a screen policy where you allow 'screen time' at certain times during the week. Make this time optional, that your little ones may sit in front of a screen if they wish, but they may choose to play or do something else instead, don't mandate that they must sit in front of the telly, or play educational games on your phone.
Whether you grant an hour or two each day, half an hour a week, or somewhere in between, the overall time isn't so important. More important is that you manage expectation, enforce the limits and try to make this time constructive. Perhaps you might choose to watch a couple of regular programmes, or to play certain games on a television or computer. Try to steer your little ones' attention towards educational content and remember that even games can be construed as assisting development if they help develop coordination or understanding.
If you think our children have a shockingly different life to the way that we grew up, being exposed to electrical gizmos and gadgets at every turn, just spare a thought for the world that your grandchildren will inhabit!
Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman has caused controversy by saying that under-three's should have almost no exposure to television. While it would be difficult to argue the opposite, many may be surprised that Dr. Sigman recommends virtual banishment for the very young. Furthermore, he recommends limiting up-to-seven year olds to a maximum of an hour and a half of TV or computer exposure per day, and a maximum of two hours up to the age of 18.
Dr. Sigman's recommendations are based on a number of research observations. One concern is that sitting in front of screens leads to a sedentary lifestyle and is largely responsible for the explosion in diabetes and heart disease in the population. Another concern is that the acts of watching television and playing computer games have an affect on brain development. While brain scans of computer gamers showed different brain patterns, his research does not conclusively prove that gaming alters the brain, or whether people with gaming patterns are predisposed to playing games. His research does suggest that gamers are more prone to addiction and develop a dependency on screen technology.
We probably aren't that surprised to hear all of this; we all remember our own grandparents talking about the perils of television and the harm it would do in modern society, but back then it was pure conjecture and fear of the unknown. That their fears are being realised at a time when screens are appearing in every room of the house and even in our pockets gives us more to think about. We really have entered the information age, and we don't know where this is going!
If they can ride a scooter, eat with a spoon and fork, sing the alphabet and reach the top of a playground climbing frame, then even the littlest children can help around the house. Introduce chores and rewards and get your little ones used to the idea of being helpful around the house. Here are some jobs that young children can help with:-
- Putting shoes away: teach your little ones to pair up shoes and place them nicely by the door, or wherever you store them, when they get a little unsightly.
- Collecting rubbish: if you have waste bins around the house then invite your children to collect them on bin days so that you can empty them into the dustbins.
- Laying the table: give them the right cutlery and see if your children can lay the table for you. They may have seen a table set hundreds of times, but see if they know where the knife, the fork and the spoon should go themselves!
- Putting out washing: it's so easy to discard dirty clothes at the end of the day and leave them all over the bedroom - yes, even you do it, and you'll wonder why the kids do in a couple of years! Have them take their dirty laundry through to the washing basket.
- Straightening the bed: if they aren't in a cot any more then your little ones should be able to straighten their bedclothes in the morning. Encourage them to do so, and to lay their pyjamas under their pillow.
- Turning off the television: if your children watch a little bit of TV, teach them to turn it off when you ask them to. Most children love turning things on and off, and they will love the responsibility of this job. Hopefully it will make it easier for you to extract them from the telly when you need to!
There are so many chores that you can find for your little ones to do. Draw up a reward chart for them, or even start giving them pocket money, just a few pence for each task. The reward is only half the motivator, most children will also be driven by the fact that they are being helpful around the house, and receiving praise for being so.
According to research published by the Department of Education, nine out of ten parents think their children are being forced to grow up too quickly! The researchers asked 1,000 parents various questions and found that over half thought the programmes and tv adverts shown before 9pm were unacceptable.
They also found that 60% of parents thought that some products advertised to children were inappropriate for their age. Many parents felt they had to buy certain items for their children so to avoid them being "left out" but these products were not considered essential or appropriate, so peer pressure was an issue.
Areas of concern include:
- Clothes to be age appropriate and not small versions of adult fashion
- Sexualised content in music videos and early evening TV
- Pressure to buy non-essential items for their children so they don’t feel left out.
Findings from the survey show that:
- 40% of parents said they had seen things in public places (shop windows, advertising) that they felt were inappropriate for children because of sexual content
- 41 % said they had seen programmes or adverts on TV before 9pm that they felt were unsuitable or inappropriate for children due to their sexual content.
- Of those parents who had felt the need to complain about these issues but hadn’t, over 60% said that they had not done so either because they didn’t think anything would be done or they didn’t know who to complain to.
- Around half of parents felt that celebrity culture, adult style clothes and music videos are encouraging children to act older than they are.
It has been found that children today are more likely to be able to use a mouse to play a game on a computer, than tie their shoe laces or ride a bike.
While it seems a shame that so many can't or won't ride a bike, is it really their fault? After all, it the parents who put them in front of the computer and are pleased when they learn to use it. It's the parents who use their iPhone in front of the children or encourage them to play a game to 'keep them quiet' and it's the parents again who are not helping them tie shoe laces by providing them with velcro fastening shoes! But, as long as parents try to show and teach a balanced way of life (a bit of TV and a bit of swimming; a game on the computer then a nice blowy walk) then it's great that our children are being exposed to such brilliant and creative technology that computers provide.
The research published information that suggested 70% of children aged 2-5 can play computer games but that only 20% of them could swim on their own. Well, to be honest, the stats may sound threatening, but swimming unaided is actually a great deal more tricky to master at 5 than using a computer which is, after all, very simple to use, and the type of games the children play are specifically designed for children... It's not rocket science to suggest this might be the case!
S0me people suggest that in this digital age, children's skills are being measured by their ability on a computer. It says that parents are too busy or too lazy to help their children learn practical and physical skills. This is rather harsh. The fact remains that we do live in a digital world. It's not negotiable. We have to embrace the digital age or we simply won't be able to function! What we need to do is teach them all the traditional values and skills in addition to all the new-fangled ones. Then we will develop balanced and well rounded young people who don't sit in front of the TV all day, but who can ride bikes, swim but also use a computer.
Child experts are increasingly concerned that technology is replacing physical activities in the lives of young children - children spend more time tapping away on computer keyboards, playing with pretend mobile phones and watching television than they do playing outdoors or doing craft and other traditional learning activities. Parents are becoming more lazy, preferring to sit children in front of a TV or a computer rather than interacting with them and undertaking physical games and activities.
Interacting with others is a vital component for children to develop properly. Traditional activities such as craft, drawing and doing puzzles, with an adult nearby, encourages fine motor skills and physical development, and language skills are learned by conversing with grown-ups. This is all bypassed by children sat passively in front of a TV or left to their own devices being entertained by computer games or pretend technology devices.
Even though parents today have less time to spend with their children than for previous generations, it seems that we are all too happy to spend that little time we do have separated from them while the children are expected to entertain themselves.
Spend a moment to reflect on your own lifestyle, and ask yourself whether you are dedicating enough time to your children?
If your children attend a nursery, there's a good chance that they come home talking about what they've done on a smartboard, and you're possibly left wondering what on earth a smartboard is?! Classroom technology has shifted from blackboards to whiteboards, through acetate projectors and onto computer projectors. The smartboard is your children's generation classroom presentation equipment!
A smartboard is an interactive whiteboard. A computer projects a video display onto a touch sensitive screen and children and teachers can interact with the screen using their fingers or special 'pens', which may also have buttons on like a mouse. Smartboards can be used for a variety of purposes including:-
- watching television and videos
- playing interactive games
- drawing and writing
- story telling
At one level a smartboard can be used just as a large screen for a computer, but it is enhanced with interactive games that allow people to interface in all sorts of fun ways.
In nursery schools, smartboards are often used for projecting children's TV programmes, telling stories (sometimes interactive) and for educational games to introduce colours, numbers, letters, shapes and other basic learning.
All of this is introducing children to information and communication technology from the age of 3 years and upwards. There's no doubt that children are growing up in a world very different from the one we grew up in; by the time they are starting school at the age of 5, most children already have varied exposure to computers, ICT and numerous digital gadgets!
Whether a Grandparent or Aunty, or even a parent, babysitting a new born baby can be boring! Here are a few tips to make it fun for both of you!
- Cuddle up with a good book: It could be a kiddie book and you can read in a nice, quiet voice to the little bundle and enjoy a nice cuddle. It could be your own novel! Try reading aloud and seeing how happy baby is just to be warm and safe and listening to your voice.
- Watch TV together and chat about what you see. They will love the moving pictures, the sound and comfort of your voice and the attention! A little bit of television is fine!
- Have a gentle massage. Lie them down safely and tickle their toes, stroke their hands and gently give a massage.
- Count fingers and toes and get their hands moving. Sing Round And Round the Garden and watch their delight!
- Have a sing: singing, and music, are a great comfort to a baby. Listen to all sorts of music together, it needn't just be soft, baby music - as longs as it's not too loud.
- Get down on the floor and encourage crawling or playing depending on the age. They will love the attention and to have someone new spending time with them.
- Carry on as usual: you can still get on with your regular tasks and jobs when babysitting. If you make sure the baby is safe, you can leave their side. Perhaps chatter as you do things and talk through what you are doing.
- Go for a stroll: it's nice to get some fresh air even in winter, so wrap up baby and go for a walk whenever you can to get you out. As long as baby is warm you will be fine!
- Have a nap: babies do get tired, so if you think they are getting sleepy, put them down for a nap. Watching them when they sleep is just magical!
Parents who have the television on the whole time are affecting their children's speech, according to recent research in America. Parents who tend to keep the television on even when not watching it are less likely to talk to their children and the children actually end up speaking less and having a worse grasp of language.
A study of babies and children aged between 2 months and 4 years found that for every hour the TV was on during the day, the parents used between 500 and 1,000 less words.
The study was published in the journal Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine and the researchers said that this may explain the association between watching TV and delayed speech in some children. Over 300 children were studied on random days over a 2 year period.
Children were sometimes left alone in front of the television, or were not addressed while the television was being watched, or the parent was watching the screen and not interacting with the children.
30% of homes in America, the research said, have TV on all the time. The American Academy of Paediatrics discourages television before the age of two. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in the UK does not issue guidelines.
Children say the funniest things as they learn language and start speaking for the first time. Toddlers learn language simply by listening to spoken words all around them, and sometimes they mis-hear what has been said. This can give rise to mispronunciations 'sticking', for example spaghetti is often misheard as 'sketty' and we've heard 'gescalator' for 'escalator' and 'ninner' for 'dinner'! Toddlers learn language at a phenomenal rate, far surpassing the capabilities of the most advanced supercomputers. However, it's not true that young toddlers learn language through watching television. Recent studies suggest that until the age of two, babies don't associate words that they hear on the TV with objects outside of the TV in the real world. This means that although they may be shown a picture of a 'spoon' and hear the word repeated, they won't immediately make the link with a spoon right next to them, until they are a little older.
One of the most amazing capabilities that children have is the way that they learn what a 'dog' is, and then are able to look at a photograph of a dog, see a real dog and even see a cartoon drawing of a dog and associate all of these as being dogs. Try teaching a computer to do the same and you'll be training it for years!
Television is an extraordinary medium, and for the first few years of a child's life, it is difficult to understand what it really is and where the boundary lies between physical reality and on screen portrayal. Children start to understand what television represents at around the age of 3 years. Babies and young toddlers stand almost no chance of understanding TV - for them, the screen represents a mass of fast moving shapes, sounds and images; scenes move too quickly for them to make sense of what they see. As their brain begins to interpret more quickly, they start to digest images better and they can begin to understand the flow of a TV show more coherently.
Even at 3 years old, most children will think that if you knock over a glass of milk on the television, that milk will spill onto the floor of your living room. That will seem really weird to adults who understand television for what it is, and easily forget just what your babies and todders will make of TV!
Toddlers have a very literal view of the world, they take their experiences at face value and consider everything 'reality'. This is hardly suprising - they experience new things every day and there's no reason why they should be filtering fantasy from reality, they simply perceive everything as 'real'. Young children will be captivated more by cartoons than by live action. This is because cartoons present more straightforward pictures and there is generally a higher contrast in the colours on screen. For their first few years, toddlers can't even distinguish between a cartoon portrayal and live action, for them, everything is real. Now that we live in a world filled with mass media, we have made understanding our world just that bit more complicated for our little ones!