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Preschoolers and Limits for Computer Devices

by Margot F. | July 8th, 2014 | Preschool, Social

file0001756798196In my urban community, it seems that everywhere I look, a young child has access to a computer technical device. For example, when a young preschooler gets fussy in a restaurant, the mother hands him her phone to scroll through pictures. In another instance, a preschooler is busy on an iPad while her mother chats with friends. Is it appropriate for preschoolers to have access to technology at such an early age? Are there guidelines to help parents and caregivers?

In this article, the term “computer technical device” refers to objects that need a power source and are viewed through a screen. Until the last few years, only a few people could afford the latest portable computer gadgets, but now they are relatively inexpensive and easily accessible to preschoolers.

Having grown up in the 1960s, I watch in awe as young children operate iPhone, iPads and other computer devices. For many preschoolers, operating tech toys and phones is easy because this is their world. While recognizing that computer technology is here to stay, many preschool professionals express concern about the possible side effects of exposing young children to so many technical devices and the impact on child development.

Admittedly, every generation has been faced with a similar dilemma. Television was just starting to take hold in the 1960s and was often referred to as “The Idiot Box” because of the frivolous shows, and yet Baby Boomers have grown up to be educated and functioning members of society. But television programming also “grew up” and started providing educational shows such as Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. Now children could be entertained by watching television and learn the alphabet at the same time. For children learning English, these programs were helpful.

Today, many computer devices such as Skype are beneficial for young children. “Come say ‘Hello’ to Nana and Grandpa” implores a mother to her young preschooler. Images of the grandparents appear on the computer screen and the child can talk to her grandparents who live far away. Skype has done wonders to help distant relatives stay in touch with each other until they meet in person.

Advances in educational technology have made it possible for young children to access reading materials with minimal adult assistance and supervision. Books that allow a child to push a button and hear the roar of a lion encourage further investigation by watching shows about wild animals. Disney’s The Lion King is easily accessible on an iPad and with captions underneath, a preschooler can start learning to read basic words.

Two concerns with a child accessing computer technology are that it doesn’t replace concrete experiences and ensuring the material is age appropriate. Phones that show pictures of your child with relatives and friends are appropriate, however, ensure access to explicit adult material is unavailable. Also, preschoolers learn by doing and benefit by having lots of time playing with others. Limit screen time and have fun playing and talking with your child. This stage passes quickly, enjoy!

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