Friday, August 12, 2016

How old should a child be before they get their own iPad?

On Facebook, a thread started among family and friends about getting an iPad for their soon to be 5 year old son. They asked for people to weigh in on the discussion. Since I could relate, I did weigh in, but realized it was a great post for this blog too.

[Edited from original FB post]
My grand-daughter inherited my old iPad about two years ago, when I bought a newer one. I thought it would be great for her to have her own iPad for a number of reasons. Familiarity and the eventual mastery of technology is one. There are so many things a child can do on an iPad or similar device, that the sky is the limit. The educational apps, games, and methods of communicating with family members and friends is just the beginning. Through the iPad, she learned about musical instruments in an orchestra, played doctor, made robots, cooked meals, ran a hospital, supermarket and restaurant, explored space, solved puzzles, read electronic versions of her favourite story books, the list goes on.

Once she discovered Google and YouTube, she was no longer satisfied with the phrase "I don't know". Don't get me wrong, an inquisitive young mind having access to all of the information that's available on the Internet, is a double edged sword. On one hand, they can find answers to pretty much any questions they have. On the other hand, they can find answers to pretty much any question they have. Some parents may not be cool with that possibility. Which brings me to probably the most important factor in all of this. Parents have to parent. They get to decide what their kids should or should not be exposed to. They get to decide how much time their kids should spend staring at a screen, no matter how valuable that screen time may be. I think most parents understand that a child needs to be exposed to other things, like real life. Because not all, but much of what they experience on the screen is virtual.

They need to play outside, they need to make and break things with their hands, they need to interact with other people. They need to learn the consequences of things, because in virtual environments, destruction, injury and death don't really have a price.

So in my humble opinion, I think it comes down to balance. As long as a kid is not spending most of their free time staring at a screen, it's all good. But as parents have noticed, sometimes it's difficult to agree on how much is too much. Also, once a child is aware of the joys and possibilities of the internet and apps, it's hard to tell them that they can't have it right now. But I think parents in general need to be more aware of what their kids are doing with technology, because they'll probably be surprised at how much their kids have figured out on their own, and how far down the rabbit hole they've ventured on their own.

Lastly, for what it's worth, my grand-daughter, who is now 8, is a huge Minecraft freak. She has mastered this virtual environment and has built (and visited) some amazing hand-crafted worlds, thanks to her being able to interact with other players of the game. A lot of folks may not see the value in a game like Minecraft, but it definitely teaches them how to design and build things even if they're virtual things. It teaches them that you need certain resources to build certain things. Who knows what that skill could lead to when they get older. I don't think this is something that should be kept away from kids, just monitored and metered out.

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