Just a few weeks ago the World Health Organization announced that infants under 1 year old should not be exposed to electronic screens at all. They also say that children between the ages of 2 and 4 should not have more than one hour of “sedentary screen time” each day.
In a world full of screens, adhering to these guidelines is a quite a task. Short of raising kids with paper bags safely secured over their heads, what’s a busy parent to do? Simply put, shielding young children from screen use entirely may be an exercise in futility for most families. They must find a way to teach children how to live with screens safely, age-appropriately, and in balance with all of the other wonderful things life has to offer.
One way families can achieve this objective is by using “digital on-ramps.”
What is a Digital On-Ramp?
Just as a freeway on-ramp provides a safe way for a vehicle to accelerate to the speed of fast-moving traffic, a digital on-ramp offers the same approach to the information superhighway. I suggest this approach in my book—“Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology” (HarperCollins Leadership)—because parents have told me they want concrete guidelines on what, when, and how to introduce their kids to technology in a safe and responsible manner. That’s what “digital on-ramps” offer.
Young kids are naturally curious about technology. After all, they look around and see adults everywhere staring down at glowing screens, it’s natural they will want to look at one too. So instead of shutting down a child’s natural curiosity about technology, parents can on-ramp them at appropriate ages and stages. This approach gives parents a chance to focus on the positive uses of tech—to connect with faraway others, learn new things, be creative—and it can also breed good online habits that will, hopefully, last a lifetime.
Here are some “digital on-ramps” that might work for your family:
- Ages 0-2 -Videoconference with loved ones, with child on lap and parent providing explanation.
- Ages 3-6 -Co-view educational content, with parent explaining. -Write emails together to friends and family. -Send texts and photos together to relatives and friends.
- Ages 7-9 -Play child-friendly video games together. -Find and use creative apps together, like a drawing app. -Keep online notes, recipes reminders, and more. -If you go on a family trip, keep a digital journal, and post the photos/videos you take.
- Ages 10-12 -Do school research together. -Help your children pursue their out-of-school interests online. -Find homework help or tutorial videos online to assist with schoolwork. -Show them (or ask them to show you!) how to download and read ebooks and music.
These “on-ramps” may be way too fast or too slow for your family, so adjust the speed to fit your values and objectives. Remember, while every family is different, kids all start out small and grow up slowly. They all need time and practice to learn how to use technology safely, wisely, and (hopefully) in moderation.
Diana Graber, founder of Cyber Civics and co-founder of Cyberwise, is the author of the book, “Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology” (HarperCollins Leadership/Jan. ’19).