Digital Parenting: Battle of the Gadgets

digital parenting

The Digital Parenting Divide

Technology helps us in many ways, but it can also hurt us. Ask a parent what they think of their toddler’s–or fast forward, their teen’s–use of cell phones or tablets and you’re sure to spark a controversial debate. Are these devices helping our children learn faster or are they limiting their social skills? Or both? As with most things in life, our home has found a balance.

Before I explain more about how we manage our toddler’s tech time, let’s acknowledge that computers will be part of every child’s schoolwork and career. Many private (and public) schools provide an iPad or computer in the first grade—or not long after. Computers and other mobile devices come with a responsibility, which is great to instill at a young age!

toddler tech

Asher’s recent 3-year-old portraits featured our iPad.

I try to take advantage of every positive opportunity our smartphones and computers have available for young minds. We have an ABC subscription and easily access phonics videos on YouTube.

Our ‘digital parenting’ style is not overly rigid, but some things must be enforced. For a bit of balance, we’ve established no-tech times while we have the parental control over our toddler’s access to devices:

  • No devices between lunchtime and naptime
  • No digital after dinner

Our son probably gets about one cumulative hour of tech time per day. With the exception of an occasional Disney movie or live surfing contest in the evening with Mom and Dad. By limiting our toddler’s screen time, we hope he gets the educational benefit and the cognitive development of ‘old school’ flash cards and other activities, like playing with stickers or a Polaroid camera. Check out our earlier post on creative non-digital gifts for toddlers. Plus, for birthdays and holidays, I encourage him to handwrite thank you and holiday cards.

Although it seems like parents will eventually surrender to the Gadget Battle, for now we try to use it as a bargaining chip. It is much easier to offer five minutes on an iPad and avoid a 30-minute meltdown. (Don’t let our little one know this!)

Curious how you answer a question that is still a few years off for us: How old will your child be when they get a mobile phone?

Modern Working Mom

work at home mom

Parents today have more digital shortcuts and tools than ever before, but do you really need to rely on your smartphone? Modern working mothers, like myself, have our own routines and support systems. Whether you work from home or your job offers a flexible schedule out of the home, balancing professional and familial responsibilities is an art.

work life balance

How do you juggle priorities, keep little ones happy and healthy, plus take care of yourself? I’m one of those individuals who feels guilty for pleasure reading. I always feel like I should be productive and contributing to my home and work. Here are a few (mostly low-tech) ways I’ve been able to make days more fluid, less stressful, and manage to get it all done:

  1. Handwritten lists. Yes, there are plenty of apps for organizing tasks, but I prefer to rely on handwritten lists. Reminders and tasks with pen and paper are familiar to me, and they also keep me away from further distractions on digital devices. How many times have you gone to your phone for one thing and found yourself scrolling and replying to emails 20 minutes later? As a last resort, if I don’t have any hard copy note-taking supplies with me I will text myself a note. I’ll be sure to see it later in the day since I clear out all my personal texts daily!
  2. Routine for all. Although common and simple, picking out our clothes the night before helps the next day run smoothly. My toddler has an outfit for the day, one for naptime, and others dependent upon his activities. Having those lined up and ready when we need them moves the day along. Many parents are overwhelmed with keeping a clean house and get distracted by straightening up. Now that my son is three, he’s much more independent and his nap times are shrinking. As he has grown responsible enough to clean up his toys, I use that time to start dinner or basic household clean up. While he finishes his meal, we wipe down the kitchen counters and load the dishwasher. Together we do laundry and he learns color sorting and basic measuring. No big cleaning time is taken away from our day when we piecemeal it throughout our normal routine and the bonus is the learning included along the way!
  3. Autopilot. Of course, the trick is to stay with your routine! I do rely on technology in this way. Our neighborhood grocery store Harris Teeter offers online shopping. This allows me to shop from my phone or computer and set a pickup time. I can pick up the groceries after a meeting and not have to make two separate trips—plus avoid food shopping with a toddler, which could eat up a lot of time! I also love Amazon Prime Subscribe and Save and newest addition, Pantry. Their subscription service offers reduced prices and lets me set dates when our items are automatically re-ordered and dropped at our doorstep. Huge help and it is often much less expensive then me walking into any large retailer…with or without a list!

Hide From the Heat! Indoor Toddler Time

Even if you are not local to Raleigh, you likely experience hot and steamy summer days. After a long winter of snow after snow in Raleigh, my little one was excited to get out and enjoy a few outdoor toddler activities. Yet ever so quickly, the temperatures have gone to the extremes!

My toddler is crazy about “indoor races” and coordinating a short indoor field day can tire out a toddler without worry of sunblock or heat. Try three-legged races, sac races, or a mess-free balloon toss with rice or dried lentils. (Save the water balloons for outside!)

indoor toddler activities

My toddler: The Champion of Indoor Races.

We have already had a week straight with over 90-degree temperatures and we still have the whole summer ahead. (Even when the heat is at a tolerable level, summer activities with kids mean sunblock patrol!) Also, as a Realtor I’ve noticed an influx in residential properties in downtown Raleigh. Whether you are trying to have fun in the shade at home, or are an urban dweller and find yourself inside, here are a few ways to enjoy family time inside away from the summer heat. Each of these activities come with “prize” ideas to keep your kids busy longer:

Scavenger Hunt – These never get old! Draw (or print out if you are not an artist) a picture on a small piece of paper where the next clue is hidden, and leave a trail of 10-15 clues around the house. The last spot hides the prize. Prize ideas for inquisitive toddlers: Memory matching game or puzzle.

soap crayons

Soap crayons make a mess that is easy to clean.

Soap Crayons – This may be a slightly deceiving way to trick your kids into cleaning house! Give toddlers soap crayons and let them go wild on tile floors in your kitchen and baths. Then have a contest to see who can ‘erase’ the fastest with a mop. To make it festive for the Fourth of July holiday weekend–only use red, white, and blue soap crayons. Prize ideas for active toddlers: Container gardening kit or water play table.

Make Your Own Book – Help your toddler tell a story about a recent experience. Take a beach trip? Visit grandma? Start with what was for breakfast, then how they got to where they were going. What did they do? Who did they see? What did they learn? What was their favorite part of the day? Least favorite? Create the book the old-fashioned way with paper, crayons or colored pencils, magazine cut-outs—you can even make “pop-ups” or lift-the-flap features. Alternatively, let your little one start navigating storytelling with digital formats. Scribblit is an online platform that connects kids with illustrations, story ideas, and publishing tools to tell their story and get it printed so that you can have it for years to come. Create a ‘book award’ to congratulate your young author. Prize ideas for literary toddlers: Winner gets to choose a book or eBook on Amazon or a visit to your local library.

toddler art project

Art projects can be more than just crayons…

Art – As a sensory activity, let your toddler mix glitter, beads, and other craft pieces into a zip-top bag. Add a bit of hair gel, seal the bag, and they can squish the pieces around mess-free. Make different ‘themed’ art pieces and reward them for the best one. Prize ideas for budding artists: Bath tub crayons or Button Art Kit.

Dino Cookies!

Dino Cookies!

Dinosaur cookies – Or pick any other theme your little one is interested in! These cookies can follow your go-to basic sugar cookie or peanut butter cookie recipe, but before baking, stamp a toy dinosaur’s foot into the dough. Prize ideas for junior chef toddlers: Kid-friendly cooking knives (these are made out of nylon) or Curious Chef Pizza Kit.

Before you know it summer will be over and we will be complaining about snow again. For now, stay cool in the shade of your homes and keep your little ones busy and learning!