Parental controls 3 -should kids have tablets at all?

Kwez portrait - perplexedThis was to be my chosen topic anyhow, but this article gave me a new focus on what I would say. Cris Rowan has written an article on Huff Post arguing that preteens should not have tablets at all. 203 people contributed 320 comments to the subsequent discussion (as at 14/03/2014). I would like to add my opinion to the mix and use it to further discuss parental controls. So here goes…In her article, 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12, Cris Rowan argues that tablets and smartphones are injurious to children up to the age of 12. Her reasons 1 – 9 can be categorised as

  • casing physical damage or
  • causing emotional, behavioural and psychological damage

I would regard her 10th reason as nothing even approaching a reason, just a re-iteration of her viewpoint. Its inclusion seems strange and undermines rather than supports her argument.

I do not support Rowan’s contention although I am not an expert in these matters. I have only done a little bit of research on this matter but have come up with some interesting observations and research data already e.g.

Researchers from the University of Michigan have today claimed that the magnets featuring in Apple’s iPad 2 could represent a health risk to young children with magnetically programmed brain shunts.

This article mentions iPads but presumably could be any tablet. I think cases like this where a child has a device or prosthesis, it would be part of the care plan of the child to enquire into electronic devices.

Smartphones and tablets enable children to engage in more online opportunities, but are also exposing them to more risks. This is one of the findings of a new report from Net Children Go Mobile, a research project co-ordinated by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). I am assuming that this report overlooked the parental control measures I have been talking about. Risks as defined in this study  ie bullying, porn and boredom can certainly be minimised.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics have said that infants aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to technology, 3-5 years be restricted to one hour per day, and 6-18 years restricted to 2 hours per day (AAP 2001/13, CPS 2010). If you want to use these figures as a guide, you can find an app for that. It would seem that some parents are using tablets (and phones) as ersatz baby sitters. See, for example, the Babies Using Smartphones? survey which found that some parents were letting their young children use a phone/tablet for 4 or more hours a day. This seems crazily excessive to me, but I am also objecting to the use of time as a sole criterion. It ignores the quality of the interaction between the child and the device, and between the adult and the child. Know how you child uses technology and guide them to things that enrich rather than impoverish.

I think it just plain wrong to try to ban kids from using electronic devices, or at least naive. Big corporations who do in fact run the planet, have created a technological ecosystem that we get to inhabit (somewhere down towards the base of the food pyramid for any biologist who might stumble across this article). Kids need techliteracy skills for survival in a post-industrial world.  Yes they need other things as well but you can’t hand over control of your life to technology (which we have done, knowingly or not) and then forbid your offspring to take part in what they see as ubiquitous. Maybe harsh, maybe sad but true.