If you’re struggling as a parent to know how to guide your children safely and confidently through their digital world don’t worry – you’re in good company! Some of the most common questions parents ask are:
- How should children use technology?
- Is there a guideline for appropriate internet usage by age?
- At what age should children have mobile phones?
Obviously as your children grow their internet usage will change, as will the way you’ll need to adapt to technology usage as a family. In this article we’ll discuss appropriate internet usage by age, and hopefully make life a little bit easier for you. In our next blog we’ll cover the topic of children using mobile phones.
How Should Children Use Technology?
Regardless of how you use technology in your home, your children will be using it in school from the start, if not earlier. One of my children was given an i-pad to play with in preschool at just 3 or 4 years old, without my knowledge or consent. He soon became proficient at playing both Subway Surf and Minion Rush thanks to his preschool educators!
Technology As A Learning Tool
Technology has a huge and incredibly useful role to play in educating our children. It has opened up so many fun and invaluable ways to learn about pretty much anything at all. There are great games that teach children everything from subjects commonly covered in school, to how to care for the environment, to memory games, and even customer service! However along with the useful and high quality content online, comes a lot of rubbish and highly inappropriate content for children. The introduction of the digital world to children should not happen before considerable dialogue between parents and their children. Children can be warned of the dangers of being online at a very young age, ideally before they have an opportunity to encounter anything that you may wish they hadn’t.
Internet Usage By Age – Time Guidelines
There are several different guidelines as to how much screen time children should have each day. Generally as your children grow, their usage of technology will increase, as will their choice of devices to use. So how should children use technology at various ages? While the “expert” views differ at various ages, they are unanimous when it comes to babies.
Should 0 to 2-Year-Olds Use Technology?
In a word: no. All the studies show that there is no benefit in babies and young children under the age of 2 in accessing technology in any form. This includes watching TV. Shows that may be educational for older children (like Play School) have no benefit for younger babies and children, and watching TV – and particularly having TV on in the background – generally prolongs their development of speech. This is not to say that watching TV on the odd occasion will cause any major harm to your 0-2 yr old. It just won’t serve any useful purpose other than buying you some time to get things done.
Technology Usage For 2-5 Year Olds
On average, while the ideal usage for children this age would be about 1 hour a day, most children this age are using some form of technology for about 2 hours a day. The majority of this usage is watching TV. The good news is that the shows they watch are often educational and harmless. If they’re watching every Aussie parent’s favourite station – ABC for Kids – the only ads they’ll see are for other shows on that station. It’s important that if your children are watching 2 hours of TV each day, they don’t watch too much in one go. Four sessions of 30 minutes each is much better than one long session of 2 hours. Too much sedentary behaviour at a time, where children don’t get the chance to be physically active and use all that energy bubbling up inside of them, often causes problems. Your children can quickly become addicted to TV and it can be difficult to pull them away from their screen without crying and tantrums. Different children can handle different amounts of TV and other technology. You know your children better than anyone else. If too much TV is having a negative affect on them at this age, then obviously less is better.
Technology Usage For 6-8 Year Olds
At this age, the majority of children are using technology for approximately 3 hours a day. The ideal usage would be closer to 2 hours a day. The type of usage between these ages is still partly watching TV, but also now using the internet for games and websites. They are also using various devices such as i-pads, tablets and handheld devices. At this point you should be monitoring the games your children are playing, as well as the effect those games are having. The device used doesn’t really matter, but interactive use is better than passive use. Most games designed for children this age are harmless, and can often be educational as well as fun to play. Often 7-yr-old boys in particular become obsessed with playing games on the internet, and this is something to be aware of if your child fits in this category. Internet addiction is very real and can have major effects on your family if not brought under control.
Technology Usage For 8-10 Year Olds
Watch out! At this age the average use of technology leaps up to a whopping 7 hours on average a day! This is way more than ideal, and varies depending on gender (generally boys spend more time online than girls) and personality. If you can prolong social media use, as well as use of a mobile phone, until your children are older than this, then you’re a step ahead. This will lower your children’s overall technology usage and help them to maintain a balanced lifestyle. Minimising the time spent online and on screens to no more than 4-5 hours a day will also help. The aim is for your children to understand that although technology is a helpful educational tool that can be used in a lot of fun ways, it is not the be-all and end-all. Believe it or not, social interaction and physical activities exist to prove that there is more to life!
Technology Usage For 11-14 Year Olds
Not surprisingly, as these ages incorporate the start of high school, technology usage is at its peak around now. Most “tweens” will spend almost 9 hours a day online! It’s not hard then to see how they can easily lose any sort of balance between their offline and online worlds, and why they might have difficulty recognizing which one is closer to reality! The majority of their usage will be spent watching TV, at as much as 5 hours a day. About 2 hours a day will be spent listening to music, and the remainder of time is fairly evenly split between playing games and being on a computer (or similar device). Most likely they will also now be spending a fair portion of their time texting on their mobile phone. It was probably never easy being a “tween”, but now with not only their physical world but also their digital world to deal with, these ages can be very challenging. As a parent you can help by creating clear rules and boundaries for them to operate in online (as well as offline). Your tween will encounter many issues and they need to know they can approach you for help as and when needed. Your tween will develop their own online profile at this point, and by walking them through their online identity, you can help them use technology to their advantage. You have an opportunity to help them create a kind persona online that will positively impact their life for years to come. This can help them avoid many of the pitfalls modern technology can bring. Encouraging extra-curricular – preferably outdoor – activities at this time that don’t involve screens will help your tween develop a healthy balance so that they don’t become completely consumed by their digital world.
Technology Usage For 15-18 Year Olds
The average teenager between these ages uses some form of technology for about 8 hours a day. Their habits have already been set and will be difficult to change now. They will be sending hundreds or thousands of text messages each month. For many parents and teenagers, the focus during these years may be getting through the final years of high school. As such it’s important not to allow technology to distract teenagers when they’re working on assignments or studying for exams. Removing the phone and other distractions during these times is key to successful results in school. It’s also vital to ensure your teenager gets adequate sleep at night in order to perform well in other activities. This means keeping technology devices out of their bedroom, particularly at night time. Teenagers at this point need to be given more freedom to express themselves and really develop their personality, but this doesn’t mean it’s safe to leave them completely to their own devices. Monitoring text messages and social media accounts is still important.
Summary: How Should Children Use Technology?
As your children grow, without doubt their internet usage at each age will continue to change. There will be more challenges to learn as time goes on, but at the same time they’ll be able to understand more as they get older. No matter what age your children are, what they are doing online is always more important than how long they’re spending, ie quality is more important than quantity. A large part of your children’s use of technology will happen when you’re not around, so it’s important to set clear guidelines and expectations up-front. Whether you think your children should use technology more or less isn’t so important, it’s all about monitoring what they’re doing and keeping them happy and safe online.