While electronic devices may feature prominently on your child’s Christmas wish list, an old-fashioned gift like a construction set or art supplies might actually be a better choice, says an East York therapist.
“Toys that allow for free imaginative play are always a good idea,” said Bonnie Miller, a social worker and psychotherapist at Leaside Therapy Centre. “That’s why LEGO was so popular.”
With all of the new technologies available, it’s tempting to hand a young child an iPad, laptop or cellphone, she said. However, parents need to be aware of the dangers of too much screen time, including exposure to pornography, manipulation of parental blockades or even cyberbullying.
“Parents should be curious about what kids do online; how they’re engaging with their friends socially or not; what is it about a game the child finds fascinating; what the child is trying to achieve,” Miller said.
Parents should also ensure the skills required to play various games are transferable to the real world, she said. This ensures those skills are not isolated to the device alone and can be applied to life outside of it.
Doone Estey is an educator and partner with the Parenting Network, a local organization that offers parenting courses and workshops. She believes children below the ages of six or seven should not be given iPads.
“Using a screen can be addictive, so the problem becomes getting them off of it,” Estey said. “The younger they start, the more the child is used to it and the harder it’ll be to manage how much time the child spends on the screen.”
Sometimes children can be creative when using a screen, she said, but they miss out on developing skills associated with using their hands.
“There’s so much research shown that if kids are engaging with the screen it is interactive,” Estey said.
“But they’re not using their hands or manipulating things with their hands,” the way they would when painting a picture, for example.
Sometimes parents use an iPad or other device as a substitute for active parenting or as a way of babysitting children, she said.
However, the “best way to help kids develop is to talk to them and spend time with them and send them outdoors to play.”