Parenting Perspective: Electronic gadgets and kids

December 21, 2011

It is a question I've asked myself recently as a parent.

My 9-year-old son Nicholas enjoys playing the piano, and sometimes performing Christmas carols with his dad.

But when he's not tickling the ivories, Nicholas' fingers are busy on my iPad.

"I use the iPad for looking up things and just having fun," he says.

It seems children are drawn to gadgets instead of traditional toys. No more fire engines or teddy bears under the Christmas tree. For Nicholas, instead his list is high-tech.

Child psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek says there is no clear answer as to when a child should get their first gadget. A lot depends on the child's maturity level, and perhaps more importantly, how the gadget will be used by the youngster.

"It's whether you use electronics more like a paint brush or a construction toy, or more like a couch potato television where you're just sitting there watching and it's controlling everything you do," she said.

Hirsh-Pasek says many of today's high-tech devices can be great educational tools. But parents should be cautious, because on some level they can deprive a youngster of the mental challenges that come with building forts or playing in sandboxes.

She warns parents to put in place certain restrictions, such as:

1. Setting a weekly or daily amount of time your child can spend on the device.

2. Knowing which gadgets can connect to the internet, and talking to your child about what's acceptable while using it.

3. Making sure your youngster spends time doing other things that are like reading books, playing sports or practicing an instrument

"We need to bring about those opportunities that allow our children to be the artists, the thinkers, the musicians, the constructors," Hirsh-Pasek says.

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