Mobile gadgets and applications are gradually becoming indispensable parts of kids’ lives worldwide. Not everything is good about technology though, and a kid might be at risk from it on the following counts.
Over the last couple of years or so, the minimum age at which kids have their first brush with high-end electronic gadgets has been going down. A ‘90s kid would have been more than happy to get a no-frills mobile handset at the time of graduating to college. Compare that to the situation now – where over 10% infants under the age of 6 months (you read that right!) regularly play with laptops and tablets and mobiles. While much has been documented about the benefits of mobile technology in general, and educational apps in particular – there remains certain pitfalls of becoming tech-addicts from a very early age. We here list some such dangers:
- Damages to expensive smart devices – For a 2-3 year old child, it is well nigh impossible to differentiate between a soft toy and the latest iPhone 6 Plus. If you are not around and are not keeping a watchful eye while your li’l darling is playing on phones and tablets, (s)he might accidentally break the device (or damage it in any other way). The onus is on you to make your child understand the value of mobile devices, and why they need to be handled with care.
- Gadgets becoming indispensable companions – Most parents have their own professional lives to tend to. There is no way on earth that they can spend time with their children round the clock. So, they do the next best thing – install plenty of good mobile apps for kids on their phones and tablets, and give them to the little ones. Gadgets indeed serve as great pacifiers (they are, in essence, digital babysitters!), but the problem lies somewhere else. The kids get so used to the companionship of gadgets and gizmos, that they sort of feel helpless when forced to spend any length of time without them. The best friend of a human kid should never be a phone!
- Constant source of distraction – Yes, there are many nice reading apps for kids – but is your child really fond of them? Studies have shown that small children are more fond of texting or calling their friends at random hours, log on (and stay logged in) on social networking sites, and play games for hours on end. All of these lead to powers of concentration getting hampered. Even while studying, a child’s mind might still be dwelling on the cool new mobile gaming app that has just been released.
- The parent-child bonding can wither – A looming risk for all the ‘super-busy’ parents out there, who try to substitute their presence with mobile gadgets and software applications. If a child is forced to spend most of the time in a day on a regular basis with the World Wide Web, or iPhone/Android apps for kids, (s)he gradually gets used to it – while the natural love and affection towards parents get relegated to the back-burner. A kid can start viewing his/her parents as just the source for getting pricey gifts and presents – nothing more.
- Physical activities take a backseat – They say that staying glued to the television screen for hours at a stretch can make couch potatoes of us all. The same, sadly, can be said about computers, tablets, and kids’ apps. If your child spends the bulk of his/her free time with mobile gadgets (for instance, chatting or playing games) – the time for getting some good, old-fashioned physical exercise gets squeezed. One of the most alarming signs of our times are the empty parks – since practically every child prefers to stay indoors and play on their snazzy new Xbox or PlayStation.
- Where has creativity gone? – Makers of mobile learning apps for kids cannot stop singing about the creative benefits that their products offer. However, the ‘creativity’ they are talking about actually refers to ‘proficiency in using iPhones and iPads’. Think of this: you ask a kid to draw a picture…and (s)he immediately whips out a tablet, and starts swiping and tapping on it. It’s all very well to know how to use a smart gadget, but the latter should not encroach into things that can be done with a pen, a piece of paper, and a bit of creative thinking.
- Growing distance from paper books – Who bothers going through storybooks in the good ol’ paper format, when there are so many well-stacked mobile storytelling apps for kids available at the stores? That’s how most present-day children (and sadly, many parents too) think, as a result of which the demand for physical books is falling all the time. The increasing availability of e-books on various sites have added to this problem. The benefits and sheer mental peace of curling up with a good book can never be substituted by a Kindle or a reading app for kids. Unfortunately, that’s what the current trend is.
- The internet is a dangerous playground – Particularly for young kids who are not quite aware of the pitfalls. There are psychos and social predators aplenty at online chatrooms – eager to start fake friendships with kids, and drawing out personal information from them. There are plenty of sites that have thoroughly unsuitable content for little children. You need to keep a tab on the regular web browsing habits of your child (on the computer as well as via mobile web apps). Parental control software also comes in handy in this regard.
- Probable health hazards – More young kids sport spectacles at present, many have slight problems in hearing, and cases of child obesity is also on the rise. These are direct consequences of staring at mobile/TV/laptops for too long, listening to songs/instrumentals at loud volumes via music apps for kids, and generally staying cooped up at one place with a smart device in hand. Add to that the growing love of fast foods among kids – and it is not surprising that health concerns among the young generation are rising. Some time away from gadgets and tools would help.
- Risks of thefts – Okay, this risk is not related to the behavioral attributes of children. However, if your kid is in the habit of showing off his/her latest tablet or smartphone (gifted by you…who else?), (s)he will be drawing unwanted and unnecessary attention to him/herself. Rest assured that people with shady intentions will take note, and will not miss out on a chance to lay their hands on the gadgets. During such robbery attempts, your child might get physically hurt too. It’s not at all advisable for kids to use expensive devices in public, particularly when they are traveling on their own.
- Accidental paid downloads – There is no dearth of free apps for kids. However, many of them come with ‘freemium’ features (i.e., users can download additional stuff by paying certain amounts). Left on his/her own, a child can buy/download loads of digital stuff that (s)he finds attractive – and as a result, your credit card bill would surge. Parents should lay down a ground rule – children will not try to download anything in their absence.
- Education technology can foster laziness – The many benefits of online learning software and educational apps for kids have been well-documented – but they can make little users just that bit lazier too. The knowledge that only a few tabs/buttons have to be tapped to learn alphabets, or it is only a matter of few clicks to find information about practically anything under the sun can do away with the urge to actually work hard to learn new stuff. Even among college students, a disturbing trend is of ‘Googling’ for readymade papers and PPTs, instead of creating reports from scratch. Education technology is absolutely great – provided we do not become too dependant on it.
- Social skills get stunted – If internet and mobile kids’ apps can blur out the affection of parents for a kid, you can very well imagine what such advanced technology can do to their general social skills. Many present generation children find themselves at a loss when they meet relatives or other acquaintances (even those of their own age group). A telltale sign of over-addiction to mobile technology is talking, texting or playing games at the dining table and/or till late at night. Does your child exhibit these symptoms?
- That thing called cyberbullying – The cyber world promises anonymity. That, in turn, have exposed children to the risk of cyberbullying, by peers, seniors, or even unknown people (for instance, online acquaintances). This is one of the key reasons why children should not try out too many social networking apps, and never give out sensitive personal information (e.g., passwords) to others. It is your responsibility to monitor the device usage of your child regularly.
The above points do not, in any way, suggest that mobile technology is bad for kids. If anything, the usage of online resources and Android/iOS apps for kids are perfectly complementing the classroom education of young ones. Like every good thing in life though, overdependence on technology can prove to be harmful, in various ways. It’s up to the parents and the academic instructors to ensure that kids get the maximum advantages out of technology, without falling prey to any of these pitfalls.
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