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I feel like in the past five years or so, there’s been a resurgence in children having technological devices. We’ve become a more tech savvy society, so it’s only natural that children would want the latest cell phones, Wii games, iPods, etc. to pass the time. It’s a completely different world than it was even a decade ago, since now gadgets that we couldn’t even dream of (like music all in one device – that came after the eras of CDs, cassette tapes, and records) are now marketable to the general public.

Scanning a street in any given city, you see people walking around listening to their iPods or talking on their cell phones, but a large number of these are even children as young as 6 or 7 years old. You could be sitting in a restaurant and there’s a child playing a video game at the table or playing with his mom’s cell phone. It’s unreal how much children know about the new technological devices on the market, since past generations didn’t have internet so accessible (or even have it at all) or phones that they could take anywhere they want. It’s all new to recent decades and we don’t even know the effects on children of being so exposed to technology.

The question I’m posing is, how soon is too soon to get a child a cell phone or an iPod?

One of the main ideas to consider about technology and children is: are they getting enough exposure to life outside of the one present inside a television, computer, cell phone, etc.? Back in the day (even ten years ago), children were outside climbing trees, playing sports like baseball in the park, or playing tag outside much more than today’s kids. The onset of technology into children’s lives has made playing Wii sports more desirable than playing soccer outside or going on the computer instead of going to the pool. While obviously children still find their ways into the great outdoors, there are more distractions for them now that video games, iPods, and cell phones have found themselves into the hands of today’s youth. Parents have begun buying into the “easy ways” to entertain children and televisions have become new-found babysitters. Is this necessarily the way the world should be – where technology obscures the great outdoors – especially in such nice weather during the summer? As well, what should the ground rules be for children and new gadgets?

Some ground rules I recommend:

1. Cell phones don’t need to be given to children until they truly need to ask for rides to and from places. This is typically around middle school age when after-school activities tend to take up extra time after school and the child is not necessarily home at a specific time every night. I’ve seen children as young as 8 or 9 years old carrying around cell phones and find it odd that their parents would pay for something they most likely just play games on. Who does an 8 year old need to call that they can’t do on the house phone? Another point to make is: if your child has a cell phone, they should learn cell phone etiquette and know not to text at the dinner table, for example. Adults might already have these bad habits, but children pick up stuff quickly and early on: why not nip it in the bud if they have bad habits? The general rule of thumb is that children shouldn’t be ignoring someone right in front of them because they’re distracted by technology.

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2. Video games are acceptable for school age children, although the game ratings should be checked and the games shouldn’t substitute for outdoor playing. Virtual games are never as good as the real thing, right? Children should be learning social skills on the playground or kicking a ball outside with their siblings, although they don’t ALWAYS have to be outdoors to have fun. Video games can be really fun and educational (age appropriateness matters!), but they shouldn’t be the only form of entertainment for children. Also, hand-held video games shouldn’t be played at the dinner table or when they should be talking to others. Social skills are formed when children are put in situations when they have to speak to others, making it counterproductive to be playing a video game at the time. Plus, it’s incredibly rude to ignore people because you’re looking down at your video game, so children should be reprimanded for doing so.

3. Although iPods are pretty expensive typically, there are some smaller models (like the iPod shuffle or nano) that you can get your child if they really want to listen to music. It’s unreal seeing some children with more expensive iPods (like the iPod classic) when they’re only 9 years old, but children that age still like music. You just have to think, will my child be rough with this gadget and break it? Can they handle something this expensive? It depends on the child, but it is rather outrageous to spend a mint for the latest iPod for a child still in elementary school. Plus, children should learn the etiquette of when it’s appropriate to listen to their iPod, since bad habits can develop early on in life (I wish some people had learned from childhood that it’s rude to listen to music when someone’s talking to you!).

As for any technological device, you have to consider how old the child is and how much they will benefit from it. Just buying random gadgets for 9 year olds seems a bit extreme, but some children are more mature than others and can handle expensive devices earlier. It depends on the child, the family, and how much time they’ve been exposed to playgrounds, playing with other children, and spent in the real world, not just the technological one. For example, children shouldn’t just be set in front of the television from a young age and expect to have strong social skills all the way around. They need a balance of playing outside with others and being tech savvy that previous generations didn’t have. The world may have changed in terms of what’s available for children to do, but kids still need the same form of social bonding. Children have a unique curiosity that makes it hard for them to resist the newest gadgets – Apple products, for example, are shiny, silvery, and have incredibly clever stores. However, we can’t forget about what’s all around us in nature or we wouldn’t be human.