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Is too much screen time having a negative impact on our children's development?

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Cosmopolitan.com,...

Kids can operate laptops and iPads but can't even tie their shoes

New research suggests that young children are more likely to know how to operate a cellphone before knowing how to either ride a bike or read. It also showed that more than half of children surveyed feel more confident using a tablet than learning to swim or tying their shoelaces. Is technology taking over our children, leaving important life skills behind?

The study, which came out of the U.K., surveyed 2,000 parents of children ages 2 to 16. In addition to finding that most children were more comfortable and confident in front of a screen than with everyday, non-tech activities, it revealed that children in London spend up to 10 hours on average on some sort of digital device. With school, sleeping and eating, how is that even possible?

When my son was younger, I did my best to limit his screen time, as all the experts suggest. That was easy during toddlerhood. He wasn't quite aware of what TV or iPads were yet, and was just as happy stacking blocks or chewing on his sleeve as he was watching an episode of Sesame Street.

Now he's almost 8, and despite limited screen time in his earlier years, he has a deep affinity for all things tech. He has a rather slow but functional first generation iPad — a hand-me-down from when my husband upgraded his years ago. I thought we were being pretty progressive and lenient giving our then 7-year-old his own iPad, but according to the U.K. study, one in three children ages 2 to 4 own some type of tablet and spend more than five hours using digital devices per day on average.

As for my son, his iPad is mostly used for listening to music and books on tape, but he also happily plays a number of kid-friendly games via apps as well as watches shows from Netflix or PBS Kids. We try to limit screen time to no more than a half hour or so during the school week but are pretty easygoing about it on the weekends. My son also clocks time playing video games as well as uses my phone to fit in an Angry Birds here and there. Clearly we're not anti-tech or screen here. I certainly want my child to grow up to be tech-literate, but at the same time, there needs to be a balance.

Technology has so many amazing benefits. With it, we're able to Skype grandparents and great-grandparents who live across the country as well as family and friends who live across the globe! My son is able to easily look up answers to his many, many questions, and we're all able to use it to unwind after busy or stressful days. Yet I'm also aware of how easy it is to over-rely on or overuse the same helpful tech. Eschewing things like reading and writing, physical activity and learning important life skills like tying shoes in favor of screen time isn't doing anyone any favors. After all, how are you going to successfully download your favorite app, navigate Wikipedia or even create your own video game one day if you're putting off everything else in favor of screen time?

As parents, it is our duty to introduce healthy screen and tech habits to our children at a young age. Unlike us, they will be the ones growing up with access to these things all around them, 24/7. Teach them the importance of tech, sure. But at the same time, let's also teach them the importance of unplugging once in a while.

More on kids and technology

Protecting your child's online identity
Are your kids addicted to video games?
Is screen time harming our kids?

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