Are tablets good for children?

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1. Isn't screen time bad for children?

As a parent, seeing your child spending lots of time playing on tablets, phones and other devices can feel worrying. Many of us feel that being active, playing outside or reading a book is better for children's development.

While physical activity, reading and other more 'traditional' activities continue to play a very important part in children's development, most parents and carers do rely on screen devices from time to time to engage their child while they’re busy with something else. Some experts argue that young children should not be exposed to screens at all, whilst others believe it is not a problem in itself, just as long as children’s time is made up of a balanced range of activities.

Parents sometimes worry that time spent playing on screen devices may be stunting important development in areas such as social and communication skills. However, as devices and technology have evolved to be more intuitive and creative, they have opened up a world of possibilities for children who previously may have been frustrated by the constraints of their abilities and their environment.

2. Empowering children to communicate

How technology can help

Many young children don’t yet communicate by reading and writing but are full of ideas that they want to express. This can be a really frustrating stage for them, but using technology in the right way can empower them to get their ideas across. This can be especially true for children with communication difficulties.

Technology like video-calling on a tablet or phone can support social interaction and communication skills as it makes it easy for children to show people the things they want to talk about or to describe facets of everyday life to family and friends. By doing this they're also learning to take turns, to take account of their conversation partner and to explain things in a way that’s understandable for somebody who isn't in the same place.

If others join in with apps and games or taking and viewing photos they become shared experiences and can provide stimuli for children’s own questions, stories and imaginative responses. Some nurseries and schools encourage young children to take their own photos to show their families and these can become a focus for talking about their day away from home.

3. Help your child learn through technology

Professor Lydia Plowman has researched the way children learn through apps and games. In this video she explains what parents can do to do to unlock the learning benefits of technology for their child.

4. Guided interaction

How to help your child learn through technology

Almost any game, app or website can provide a positive learning opportunity for your child if you think about ways of supporting their play.

Being there is key

Effective guided interaction is about finding ways of supporting your child’s play and learning with technology. It’s more than helping out when they get stuck, although sometimes that’s all that’s needed. Guided interaction often comes naturally: showing interest, asking questions, making suggestions, providing encouragement, praising achievements, just being nearby and helping children to deal with their frustrations. All of these can build confidence and support your child’s play and learning.

Turning virtual fun into real-world skills

Guided interaction also involves thinking about ways of extending children’s learning beyond the screen. For example, if the virtual game involves sorting objects into different categories, you could follow up with a real-world game in which your child helps to sort the washing. By doing this, you have helped them to relate what they have experienced on the screen to everyday life.

Getting children involved in your online tasks

Letting your child get involved in everyday tasks such as online shopping, checking the weather or looking up directions can also be great for giving children a sense of purpose and developing their know‐how about how to find out about things. These everyday tasks can also be great opportunities for talking with your child about the wider world and developing their general knowledge, for example, talking about what their favourite foods are and why, where the food in the shops comes from, or different kinds of weather.

5. How to find good apps for children

'Educational' apps

The apps, games and websites that are promoted as ‘educational’ are not always the best ones for supporting learning. The fact that they’re interactive doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re much better than an old-fashioned workbook with its right and wrong answers. Children may enjoy these products for a while but then get a bit bored, and we now know that they are not the most appropriate or engaging way to learn.

Free apps

Treat so-called ‘free’ apps with caution. Some will expose your child to adverts. Others are designed to wait until your child is engaged in a game or storyline and then demand payment before they can go any further. This can lead to frustration as young children don’t understand why they can’t continue. Sometimes it’s better to make a small payment up front if the app promises no further purchases. However, the CBeebies Playtime and CBeebies Storytime apps are free to download and completely free of adverts or in-app purchases.

Choosing the right app

Choosing an app needs the same kind of thought and care you would put into buying anything else for your child. Don’t rely only on the star rating, but read the user reviews and check the privacy policy if you’re worried about the personal information that the app might be collecting. If you want your child to enjoy learning, to develop curiosity, and to think about things creatively then provide them with a range of games and apps. Open-ended games that become progressively more challenging and encourage children to explore and have fun are more likely to establish a love of learning and to lay the foundation for their future development.

6. Moderation is key

Keep your eye on the balance

While physical activity, reading and other more 'traditional' activities continue to play a very important part in children's development, most parents do rely on screen devices from time to time to engage their child while they’re busy with something else. This is not a problem in itself, just as long as children’s time is made up of a balanced range of activities.

There is a lack of concrete evidence to show any harm done by moderate screen time, but the one thing that most experts agree on is that it’s not a good idea to be exposed to close-up screens before bedtime because the light they emit may cause problems with sleep.

7. What could you do?

How can you help your child learn through apps and games?

Relating to the real world

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Relating to the real world

Help your child relate their online play to the real world by extending the game offline, e.g. after playing a dress-up game, dress up their teddies together.

Being there

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Being there

Just being there to support your child's online play by asking questions, giving them encouragement, and making suggestions can make all the difference.

Everyday tasks

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Everyday tasks

Helping you with online tasks like checking the weather, and online shopping can give your child confidence and enhance their understanding of the world.