Tech for Tots to Teens: The Benefits of Digital Devices and Your Kids

You’ve probably been reading a lot about the perils of introducing technology to kids, specifically portable devices with Internet connectivity. Heck, you may have even read something about it on the Muskoka Woods blog.

But not all technology is inherently “bad” for our kids. In fact, there are many benefits attributed to digital devices and their integration into our children’s lives — but it’s all about the boundaries you set from the beginning. Be firm about your expectations with screen time and lead by example. 

“There really is no ‘right’ age to allow our kids to dip a toe into the digital pond,” American Academy of Pediatrics’s (AAP) tech expert Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe M.D. told “But if we pay attention, we can decide what makes the most sense for our kids, because the reality is these new milestones are coming whether we like it or not.”

Here are five benefits to familiarizing kids with tech at an early age: 

Keep them connected with family

Apps like FaceTime and Skype have done wonders for keeping families in touch with one another. Having a heart-to-heart with the aunt who lives across the country is just a tap away for most kids. For families who have a parent that travels for work, children can say goodnight face-to-face. And for divorced parents, it’s an excellent way to maintain parent-child communication when one parent is living outside the matrimonial home.  

A supplement to the school curriculum 

It’s becoming more and more commonplace for teachers to recommend specific apps or educational websites for students to use outside of the classroom. For example, my daughter, who is in Grade 3, has been encouraged by her teacher to download the following apps: Sumdog (personalized math and spelling practice), Prodigy (math-based game) and Epic! (digital library). She uses them frequently — undoubtedly because they are an app and not a stuffy workbook — and I’ve witnessed the improvement to both her understanding of math and reading comprehension. We’ve integrated the apps into her homework time without a hitch! 

New perspective to family game night

Sure, you could pull out Scrabble — again — but the game options for the pro-device family are infinitely more exciting. Take Pictionary Air, for example. This modern spin on the classic family drawing game replaces a pad a paper with a smartphone screen and a magic wand that players use to draw in the air. Point the in-app camera at the illustrator and they’ll appear, along with their sketch, on the screen of your smart device.

Surveillance for safety’s sake

Default apps like Apple’s Find My (formerly Find My Friends) is a great way to ensure your family members are safe and sound. If your entire family has iPhones, you can share your location with each other and have your kids send their location data to you from wherever they may be (i.e. a friend’s house, community centre or summer camp). It also provides your children with an opportunity to see when you are on your way home from work and gives them enough time to clean their room before you walk in the door! Plus, you can use the app to locate lost devices — something all families are bound to deal with at one point or another.

Make your device kid-safe for worry-free use

Although we may try to monitor all of our children’s screen use, there may be times when they are left unattended with a connected device. For those moments, it’s best to make the devices as kid-friendly as possible. You can limit app use, set time restraints, block in-app purchases, restrict certain websites and much more. Here are a couple of guides to make your household’s Android or Apple devices as kid-friendly and safe as possible.

About the Author

Jamie Hunter lives in Dundas, Ont. with his wife, 11-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son. Over the past 15+ years, he has contributed to a variety of national lifestyle and entertainment print publications and worked in corporate communications roles at Harbourfront Centre and the University of Toronto. A self-described amateur entomologist, wannabe ornithologist, and fair-weather angler, on weekends he can be found covered in dirt tending to his gardens.

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