Parenting tips on electronic toys for kids



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Posted on December 13, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 13 at 9:34 AM

What electronic gifts are favorites this year for kids? A group of middle schoolers shopping at Best Buy near Northgate Mall had some quick answers.

"iPod, Xbox, iPod Touch," they called out almost instantaneously. 

From games to tablets to phones, chances are, if your child doesn't have one, many friends already do. Betsy Apel was thinking about video games for her two daughters.

"I think it's just fun. A lot of their friends of course have these systems in their homes." Apel said.

Still, she confessed to some misgivings.

"Oh yeah, for sure. I mean my main reservation is the time sink. Just how do you regulate how much time they spend on it?" she asked, voicing many parents' dilemma.

And there doesn't seem to be a bottom age limit when it comes to electronic toys. Babies are learning to scroll through tablets before they're out of diapers.

"It's unimaginable, or was unimaginable three years ago that we would see babies playing with iPads, and yet we see it all the time now," said pediatrician Dr. Dimitri Christakis.

Dr. Christakis directs the Center for Child Health, Behavior, and Development, at Seattle Children's Research Institute. He said the challenge for parents is to anticipate the consequence of an electronic toy.

"What parents need to focus on is first how to contain it, and second how to make sure that it doesn't pose any real risks for their children," he advised.

Tablets for instance can delight babies. But they can also displace other play. Notice the difference between electronic toys, and toys such as building blocks that help little ones develop fine motor skills.

"In the extreme what you get is children who don't engage the real world enough," Christakis cautioned.

He said video games should pass your own parent test, something Betsy Apel echoed.

"There's just so many things they're exposed to. You want to try and be careful," she said.

Studies link violent video games to aggression. They're popular with teen boys, but the "M" rating is a red flag. The worst said Dr. Christakis are so-called first person shooter games.

"Those were actually designed by the U.S. Military to de-sensitize troops for combat. And they're quite good at it," he said.

Best Buys Staffer Steven Kennedy pointed out that many parents are grateful to learn how Xbox helps them set limits. He showed parental controls over game content, online access, and time spent playing.

"How many minutes per day per week or per month," he explained about the time limits parents can set.

There's something else Dr. Christakis advised. Electronics should come with a curfew.

"Whatever time you decide, and obviously it depends on your child's age, all of those devices need to be shut off or taken out," he said.

Here's something else to consider. If you're thinking of an electronic toy for a niece, nephew, or grandchild, get the OK first from the child's parents. Your gift should match the rules of that child's household. Finally, Dr. Christakis reminded parents that setting limits works best when they agree ahead of time on their plan, and stick to it.