When Should You Give Your Kids A Mobile Device?

Kids with Smartphones

TL;DR version:

  • Avoid any screen till age 2.
  • Slowly introduce screens with limited usage – both quantity and quality till 10.
  • After 10 use your instinct. Maybe, they can own your old tablet/computer.

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As impossible as it may sound, American Academy of Pediatrics advises that

Avoid television viewing for children under the age of two years

This has been extrapolated by many to any screen time or rather no screen time. But, it does make intuitive sense, right? Just look at when you “feel the need” (versus just wanting to watch TV) to watch TV – most likely, when you want to unwind. Unwinding in this context translates to letting go, not having to use the mind actively.

Bingo! TV doesn’t require you to use your mind actively, certainly not a nurturing activity for your toddler.

The extrapolation also makes sense, only that it arrives at the point from the other direction. Have you ever tried to observe what you feel like when you are engaged in something that involves a screen? Be it a game you are playing, having a chat conversation or working on that excel spreadsheet. Sure, if you are aware, you can sense the difference between how you feel when you are watching a video and when you are going through your twitter feed. One might be calmer than the other. In most cases though, the mind seems totally wired.

But, think of this. We are connected all the time. How can being a brain that is wired ALL the time and does not enjoy down-time be good? Let alone research and empirical evidence, just the datapoint called “you” is good enough, right?

In addition, did you know why you keep a constant eye on your phone, laptop notifications? The notification releases dopamine, a natural chemical in the brain that plays a major role (among many other things) in reward-motivated behavior. So, every time the phone rings, the network in your brain goes, “Hey! Someone thought of me.” A very rewarding feeling indeed, or so your brain thinks.

The same mechanism is at work when your kid is playing a game. Studying is rewarding when you get your exam results, (most) video games are rewarding at regular intervals, through the game.

But, it is understandably difficult to keep kids away from screens in this day and age. Though research suggests we should avoid it (even background usage) to our best till they are age 2. From then on it is like anything else in life, a balancing act.

So, you’ve done the deed. In that moment of weakness, when you desperately wanted respite from the whining and the nagging, you handed your tablet over to your child, even if with a stern, “ONLY 10 minutes, okay?” For all practical purposes, there is no looking back now.

Of course, to start with I’d say its a bad idea to get them their own device. Though I am strictly against letting my 12 and 10 year olds operate my phone, we have had a “family” laptop from when they were around 4. About a year or so ago they got a tablet as a gift which is used again as a family device. Keeping balance in mind, not only are the games they are allowed to play and the apps they can use limited, but also the amount of time they can use it for is also strictly adhered to.

As they grow and their schoolwork gets more and more dependent on the internet, we are slowly beginning to see the need for them to have their own computers. While we are considering how to set that up, they will surely get our hand-me-downs to start with.

Also, like with anything else, the use or misuse depends on how and what the technology is being used for. Educative/strategical games better than the ones that involve violence; interactive screen time better than TV; maybe even movies better than no-brain-required kids’ programs on TV.

It all boils down to common sense, instinct and balance. And being a good role model.

Meeta Kabra

Meetu is a Chartered Accountant and an MBA but she’d rather not keep books or run a business. She deployed her analytical skills to reviewing movies instead and, along the way, rediscovered her sense of humor. By doing this she gets to exploit both her love for movies and writing. She took it upon herself to write reviews, "Without Giving the Movie Away" @ Wogma. She also writes short stories and poems at Minus i.

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