Kids and teens love electronics. The ability to connect with others immediately and to play games can be irresistible for many children (and adults). However, it’s important that we put parameters around usage.
Q: My 11-year-old son wants a tablet. He gets great grades and we let him play some video games on his Wii. We do notice he seems to be addicted. When we tell him to stop, he does what we say, and will read. He loves reading, but I think, like with video games, he likes being passive and will read for hours. He is starting 6th grade at new school, and they have to do some work on computers, and will loan them out, but we were considering buying one for him. My husband and I fear he will become more passive. We have to force him to go outside and play or play with his dog. He will play for 30 minutes, come back in read or want to play video games or watch YouTube gamers. I want him to get a hobby, but nothing sticks.
A: I love that you’re asking these kinds of questions rather than simply buying your son a tablet. It’s so important for us as parents to consider how electronics affect our children.
But before I dive into whether you should give your son a tablet of his own, I want to address your “passive” concern. You mention video games and reading as both passive activities, but while both involve a child being stationery, there’s nothing “passive” about reading!
I love that you’re asking these kinds of questions rather than simply buying your son a tablet. It’s so important for us as parents to consider how electronics affect our children.
Reading engages the mind in a way that video games does not. Reading helps kids develop empathy, learn how to problem solve, and fires their imagination. Video games do none of that. So while your son is sitting while he is reading, he is not passively engaging in that activity! And to have a boy who’s passionate about reading is a wonderful thing too. I should know, as I have two of my own of a similar age as your son who both love reading.
So now my advice as to the tablet is to hold off buying him one of his own. You are already allowing video game play on the Wii, and so far, he’s stopping when you say for him to stop, and he still loves reading. I would focus on encouraging/forcing outdoor play at least half an hour daily, weather permitting, then allow him reading time after his chores/homework are completed.
When you do eventually get him a tablet or computer of his own (as he’ll need more online time for classes as he enters middle/high school), use this method for keeping track of online time: Rather than say he has two hours a day, say he can be online from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Using the clock instead of length of time will make your life so much easier—and your son’s—for knowing when he should be off and when he can be on. We use this method quite successfully especially when school’s out, and it cuts down on my arguing with my kids about how long they’ve been on their devices.