Steve Jobs did not allow his kids to use iPads at home. Top executives from eBay, Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard and other Silicon Valley companies teach their kids in a low-tech Waldorf school. They know how addictive technology can be for young minds.
These seven tips will help you bring up a healthy and smart kid.
1. Don't expose babies to any screens and be fully present with them
Newborns develop based on how much eye contact and touch they get. When a parent is distracted by her device, kids develop a shorter attention span. Since children mimic adult behaviour, they tend to focus on objects for a shorter time period, just as their distracted parents do. Inability to focus means that they later are likely to have problems with learning, understanding, and speaking.
So make sure you are physically and emotionally present with your kids and don't use devices to babysit them if you want them to develop fast. American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend giving any screens to kids before they are 18 months (also because this tends to interrupt their sleeping cycle).
2. Don't teach your kid about the world just through technology
Pre-school age is when children learn about the world that surrounds them, so it's critical that you relate whatever a child sees in a game or media to real life. For example, if he gets to pick carrots in an educational game, you need to show him later real carrots and how they grow.
Randi Zuckeberg, sister of Facebook founder Mark, now runs unplugged retreats. Her "moment of truth" happened when she heard one of her kids' friends calling a computer "grandpa". He was convinced that his grandfather lived inside the laptop and could not differentiate between the real person and the computer. Make sure you do some real life activities, and you don't include your own devices into it all the time.
3. Limit screen time
As your baby grows, she may start watching a little bit of high quality programs, but this needs to be done together with parents. Between the age of 2-5, the maximum allowed screen time is 1 hour per day.
As your kids get older, screen time should remain limited throughout school and teenage years. Teenagers may feel independent and look like grown-ups, but their pre-frontal cortex, the part responsible for self-control and managing emotions, is still developing (this is why any event for a teenager is a real drama!). When overexposure to information overwhelms pre-frontal cortex, they lose ability to manage themselves. So you still need to limit their time on devices.
Prohibiting your kid to use devices altogether if you previously allowed will only make them mistrustful. A better way is to agree with his friends' parents that all devices are handed in after 10pm, so that they are not expecting their friends to contact them after this hour, and can sleep well.
4. Teach them social skills
Technology overuse can interfere with social skills, so make sure that your kid really physically interacts with other children. UCLA researchers deprived a group of kids from their screens for five days, and found out they got better at understanding emotions of other people without words compared to those who kept consuming media. They think that screen interaction replacing in-person human interaction reduces social skills.
5. Only allow to use tech if a kid is creating something
Don't bring up passive consumers of information. Many tech executives only allow tech if their kid is using it to create something, as opposed to being a passive consumer of information.
6. Know what your kids are doing online
Make sure that they feel safe to talk to you if they encounter a problem of cyberbullying or sexual advances. This means that you need to familiarize yourself with the subject, various social media, games, and various issues online. You can always call NSPCC helpline that advises parents on a series of issues, from how to install parenting digital control to the latest popular sites and apps.
Tech executives know all the ins and outs of online world, and this is why they know what to allow, and where to safeguard their kids. Technology is a different reality, and just as you are showing them how the real world works, so you should be doing with the virtual one.
7. Screens should never be present in the bedroom
You can use parental controls, fixed time to access screens, or get kids "earn" screen time by doing the chores. In any case, it should never happening during sleep or meal time - one way to do it is to ban any devices from bedroom and table. Of course, this means that you will have to stop using yours in these places, too!
This is an extract from Anastasia's new book Homo Distractus: Fight for your choices and identity in the digital age. To get your copy, check out her crowdfunding campaign.