The iPad once again topped this year’s wishlist of presents children asked Santa for. However juggling technology in the home is an issue for parents. My opinion piece below, which was published in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald newspapers explains why children want to own these devices and how parents can alleviate the issues they bring to family life.

All kids want is an appy Christmas

‘Tis the season for spending. What to buy the kids for Christmas is a question many parents are grappling with. NielsenWire reports that in the past two years an iPad has topped the list of gifts children aged six to 12 years have asked Santa for. This year is no exception, the iPad once again topping children’s wish lists. While technology opens up great possibilities for learning and entertainment, it can also bring complications into the family home. A recent survey of more than 2500 parents shows more than 50 per cent of parents believe that negotiating technology with children causes problems. As a researcher in children’s uses of technology, I felt compelled to write about how parents might manage giving children these devices in ways that help alleviate child-techno issues. These devices are fantastic resources. They allow children to explore, create and work with ideas in many different ways. While they are fairly new as gifts for children, they’ve been around long enough for us to know that a child owning a device can cause problems. This relates to what children do on these devices, how often they do it and what doesn’t happen as a result. There is little educational value in apps that glorify violence, gambling, or one type of physical perfection to aspire to. Unfortunately most of the current top 10 apps for children fall into these categories. When loading devices with apps ready for children to play on Christmas Day, aim for a selection that encourages children to be imaginative, to solve problems and to create. Parents should load apps that the child can play individually as well as some they can play with others. This helps children develop new interests, new knowledge and strengthens relationships. It’s the way we encourage uses of these devices that create opportunities for learning. The devices don’t do that on their own. Research shows that children spend an average of three hours a day using these devices, but anecdotally many parents say this is a drastic underestimation. But it’s not necessarily children who are to blame. The ”flow” is a well-documented phenomenon: when a person is completely immersed in an activity, they find it challenging, intrinsically rewarding and enjoyable. A person can feel this with any activity but research shows that devices in particular promote a state of flow. That’s why children (and adults) can use a screen for hours at a time. If we’re not mindful of this, the time we spend with others and the range of activities we engage in off-screen can fall by the wayside. Explain the importance of a balanced life to children. Set ground rules about how much time they should spend with their device each day. If you’re giving the device to a young child, then it’s important to know that pre-schoolers are a lucrative money-making market for app developers. Pre-schoolers apps make up almost 70 per cent of apps developed. Aggressive strategies are used to gain maximum profit. In-app purchases are one such strategy. Children constantly asking to purchase these can cause tension. Young children can’t read the fine print so it’s important parents help ensure children understand advertising and quick-buck strategies. Developing their critical understanding of this now needs to be a long-term priority for modern child-rearing. Devices are a wonderful opportunity for parents to share their tech expertise with children, and vice versa. However, parents can also use them to develop and enjoy mutual interests. As new devices and ways of using technology are constantly changing, advice in 2014 or even 2016, might read a little differently. However, I expect that the underlying message of guiding the uses of these devices to help children grow, learn about and understand the world will be a constant message into the future.

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