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* Because little actual data are available for the safety and efficacy of interactive tablets, parents must not leave preschoolers unsupervised. In fact, the best use of iPads for these youngsters is to promote family interactivity, and the worst is alone-time with the device.
* Expectations: "Setting expectations and attitudes is an essential first step that may take some time, so start weeks before the handover. Get the kids used to the idea that you are in charge and use access to the new toy as an opportunity to make technology finally work for good parenting, not against it. Make it into a positive force for the child's development and family life. For example, childproof and get control of the Internet before agreeing to any other apps, whatever age the child," urges Dr. Schwarz.
* Childproofing the device features is necessary if a hand-me-down. According to Richard Buday, FAIA, President of Houston's Archimage and developer of ZillyDilly, this means removing all existing settings, apps and information from an iPad by tapping Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings. You may also wish to inactivate the Safari browser and other features of the iPad via the Settings menu.
* Physical risks are rare but possible. While tablets are overwhelmingly helpful as educational, medical and assistive tools for special needs kids, parents should also be alert to potential physical risks, including head, neck, and shoulder injuries from postural strains, already reported in adults, and possible but seemingly quite rare problems including eye strain, injuries from glass breakage, and screen flicker triggering epileptic seizures.
* Learning and emotional hazards have received much more scientific attention. Excessive, unbalanced, and unsupervised screen time can be associated with obesity and deficits in social and intellectual growth an possibly be with more serious problems of media overuse in older kids. However, recent Guidance by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center also described potential benefits to very young children, moderating earlier warnings by the American Academy of Pediatrics and essentially sanctioning greater parental discretion.
* Maximize benefits and lessen conflicts: "I urge parents to take charge from the start and introduce the iPad as a family appliance, set rules, limit time, and provide a balance of experiences appropriate to the age and needs of each child," states Dr. Schwarz, also a researcher in technology use in play therapy and author of "Kids, parents & Technology: A Guide for Young Families".
* Use the device as much as possible for social, multi-person interactivity. Gently and firmly introduce new iPad rules and habits and media-free times and zones. Place and charge the device in a common area in your home and limit alone time. Include grandparents and siblings.
* Make sure "educational" apps are truly educational and fit your child's needs by consulting with a teacher. Carefully tailor content and times, especially allowed alone time, to age group and each child.
* Give preschoolers a child-proofed device and only when you are fully present and undistracted. Expand privileges for responsible mature kids to eventually allow media independence by mid-teens.
* Internet: expose to diverse free Internet content as well as apps to balance entertainment with enrichment of family relationships, socialization, values education, and extra-curricular learning to develop a well- rounded, informed, and competent children.
* Develop your kids' positive lifelong media consumption habits early and prevent later problems.
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About the Author
Eitan Schwarz, MD FAACAP DLFAPA
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