Gifts are great! Adults would generally agree with that statement, and we can’t think of any kids who would disagree. Around the world, one of the most popular categories of gifts is the “gadget” category, and most of those gadgets these days involve some sort of interface, whether that’s with a touchpad or a keyboard. While your kids might appreciate the latest high-tech toy, it’s important to remember that there are disadvantages as well as advantages to encouraging them to spend time using electronic devices. For example, did you know that there’s a big difference between “active” and “passive” use of devices like smartphones and iPads? Are you aware of the impact of these toys on a child’s health and eyesight? To get the best results from these gifts, follow these guidelines:
Keep it personal. Recent studies using Skype showed that younger children are much more likely to pay attention to the screen when there’s a human face displayed. Additionally, when the children are prompted by the on-screen person to respond or interact, they’re more engaged in the process and more quick to learn and remember. A device that just plays recordings or videos won’t stimulate a child’s brain as much as one that keeps them involved in an ongoing, ever-changing conversation. While babies and toddlers can’t use the keyboard to communicate, you can help older children to get better at typing so that they can profit from online chats and e-mail messages.
Keep it active. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently published an article discussing the way electronic games and devices are used, and noted that toys and games that push a child to think and make decisions keep their brains more active. In general, the “decisions” required by a game like the hugely popular Candy Crush aren’t ones that require thought, and in fact this type of game is more relaxing than stimulating. If you’re looking for educational electronic toys, make sure that they involve real choices and actions, rather than just mindless (if fun) clicking on colorful objects.
Keep it turned off. Another issue raised by the AAP relates to being active in the sense of physical activities, and they warn that spending too much time sitting still with a computer, laptop, tablet, or handheld device will lead to potentially harmful effects in the future. Like everyone, kids need to keep physically fit and active, so make sure that after the first few days of playing with their new toys, those toys are left inside and turned off. When children are using their electronic devices, make sure that the lighting is good so that they don’t harm their eyes with too much screen glare, and encourage good posture even when the child is playing games.