The current generation of elementary school kids is part of a group that has never known what it’s like to be without a smartphone or tablet. They’ve literally grown up playing with their parent’s phones and, as a result, the digital landscape is shaping how they grow and behave.

There are connected educational toys and smartwatches, as well as apps and online services for kids, and it’s important for parents to stay ahead of this trend to guide their kids through our digital age. There are positive and negative effects of digital media on children.

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (Tech Pro Research)

TechRepublic Senior Writer Teena Maddox moderated a panel at MWCA 2018 in Los Angeles to discuss digital kids and parenting in a connected world in a panel.

The panel, sponsored by Coolpad, featured the following participants:

  • Kaveh Azartash, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Kadho Inc.
  • Nelly Farnoody, Ph.D., psychologist and founder of International Center for Peace Learning and host of MomTalk LA!
  • John Choi, vice president, new product planning and innovation for Coolpad
  • Shane Armani, worldwide business development and strategic alliances for Smartcom

Many parents worry about the impact of mobile technology on their children, with 42% of US children ages 0 to 8 already owning their own mobile device, according to Common Sense Media. The survey also showed that mobile media screen time has tripled among the same age group, from 15 minutes daily in 2013 to 48 minutes daily in 2017.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) revised its policy recommendations to help families manage media wisely, advising that parents of children younger than 18 months old avoid use of screen media, other than video chats.

Armani said: “I remember when I was growing up it was acceptable for my parents to allow us play in the neighborhood, [we were] expected to return right before dinner time. It’s changed now. We hear stories about children being abducted, missing, or in some kind of accident. Today’s families are different. It’s inevitable for our children to live and grow up now with technology.”

While there are justifiable concerns, there are also many positive aspects of mobile device use in children.

“Kids have this opportunity to engage with educators, parents and the community, especially the online community, on having more opportunities to work on their character at different ages and stages of their development. So there are lots of positive opportunities, positive lessons to be learned from media and technology and I always like to have that balanced sort of approach to technology and talking to parents. It’s very individual, it’s very unique, each child is unique, each child, each case will be individual to that child and that family and the parenting style and so forth,” Farnoody said.

The key is for parents to have enough flexibility to provide their children with what is appropriate for that particular child.

There are other advantages to online technology for children.

“At Coolpad, we are big believers in technology that can be used to help parents and guardians incentivize and reward positive behavior and actions. A great example that my twins benefit from today is an application that offers fun, animated timers that reward my children for brushing their teeth,” Choi said.

It’s also extremely important to protect children’s data and ensure that the sites they’re using are safe.

“As parents and guardians, a major concern with the rise of AI [artificial intelligence] is the fear of our children’s data being misused. Coolpad approaches technology from a safety-first perspective that allows us to design products and features in a way that help alleviate these risks and concerns. But we must also ensure that we are communicating transparently to educate parents on where data is stored, how it is being protected and how it is being used to deliver the service,” Choi said.

Excessive use of digital devices has been tied to negative effects on concentration in kids, as well as their emotional health, sleep, and even empathy. There are ways that parents can overcome these issues to ensure their children’s digital well-being.

Choi said, “We spoke to a lot parents, and too often we find that a child’s first device is an old smartphone or tablet … These products were not built with kids in mind forcing parents to download apps or even pay for services that do not deliver a holistic solution. Our recommendation for parents is to look for brands … that have committed to bringing products that help kids form healthy relationships with digital devices. For example, devices that help parents manage screen time moderation, manage access to content, and incentivize positive behavior such as physical activity and screen down time.”

Armani said that technology must be useful if you’re going to give it to your child, and the key is how to control your child’s use of a device and to what extent they should be exposed to it.

” All connected devices however must be used more effectively and responsibly with kids, not as a ‘go play Angry Birds so I can watch the game’ distraction,” Armani said. “In a way it’s a great way for kids to communicate with their parents, but it’s a challenge to teach their limits and responsibilities of owning a device.”

Social media companies can work to improve safety for children who use their sites, so that parents and guardians can ensure that their kids are protected.

Parents and guardians will always be a crucial factor in educating and demonstrating healthy digital habits for our children. But we also must make the right purchase decisions and ensure that our children are accessing digital products and services that have been built from the ground up with parenting and kids in mind,” Choi said.

Azartash said: “I believe moderation is the key. In a connected world, we need to be cautious of what’s out there and what kids have access to. This starts off with vetting the content, assessing the true value-add of a hardware or software that is being offered for kids and most of all ensure kids are not being taken advantage of in terms of having their data collected, stored, processed, packaged and sold under other services. This needs a universal push and I’m happy that COPPA, GDPR-K and new California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 are all aligned with this message.”

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