Many parents worry about introducing the internet to their children.

At what age is it okay to go online? What content is appropriate? How much time is too much? How can you protect your child from the dangers that may be lurking in cyberspace?

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that over 70% of children between 3 and 18 use the internet, including about 39% of preschoolers ages 3-4. Among preschoolers who go online, 86% do so at home compared to 31% at school. Children from high income families have the highest rates of online usage.

Most adults agree that the internet can be a useful tool for kids to communicate with people they know and learn about academic subjects. Quality digital content can even play an important role in the preschool curriculum.

On the other hand, recent concerns generated by the Momo Challenge hoax serve as a reminder that children do face many risks when they go online, according to the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:

  • Inappropriate content, such as hate speech, violence or sexual exploitation
  • Misleading or deceptive content
  • Inappropriate or excessive advertising
  • Temptation to provide personal information to strangers, enticed by the chance to join a club or win a special prize
  • Losing time for developing offline social skills
  • Online bullying from strangers or peers

Protecting kids online includes introducing online media in age-appropriate ways and using the technology to support positive development.

Limit Screen Time in Early Childhood

The American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes the importance of in-person relationships and recommends very limited electronic media exposure for children under 5 years old.

  • Under 18 months: No digital media except for video chats with parents, grandparents, other relatives and friends.
  • 18-24 months: Toddlers should only watch a small amount of digital content with their parents. Your child will begin learning how to use the technology from watching you.
  • 2-5 years: Preschoolers should only consume about one hour a day of high quality content, and co-viewing educational content with parents or teachers is best.

Go Online with Your Child

Young children should begin using electronic media in the presence of parents, teachers and other trusted adults. Use this co-viewing time to teach healthy media habits and encourage your child to think critically about the content encountered online.

  • Ask if your child has any favorite characters, programs or games they may have learned about from peers or other sources. It’s fun to show mom and dad something new!
  • Talk about the content your child sees online. Point out any vocabulary words, math skills or concepts embedded in the program. Quality digital content can help with learning, similar to reading books with your child.
  • If you come across inappropriate content, simply say “I don’t think this is very good. Let’s find something more fun!”
  • Be a good role model. Consider limiting your own screen time outside of work and keeping devices out of your bedroom. It sets a good example for your child and you might get a better night’s sleep yourself!
  • Talk about good and bad content. Explain that not everything on the internet is true, and to tell mom or dad if your child sees anything upsetting online.

Set Tech Limits for the Whole Family

When your child does begin to go online independently, have some ground rules in place to reinforce the lessons learned during those early co-viewing sessions.

  • Prioritize offline, unstructured activity and make sure your child has plenty of “unplugged” time both at home and at school. In-person conversation is essential for continued language development and social skills.
  • Maintain tech-free zones within your home, such as bedrooms, dining areas and living rooms.
  • Don’t use the internet as a pacifier. Children need to learn to manage their emotions and entertain themselves without always having to turn to passive media consumption.
  • Monitor your child’s online usage. Know what websites they’re visiting, and ask about their favorite apps and how they like to use them.
  • Tell your child to never talk to strangers online, just as they don’t talk to them in person. Likewise, children should not be allowed to give out personal information over the internet.
  • Require your child to always ask permission before clicking on anything. Tell them that some people use the internet to make money and we don’t want to buy something by mistake.
  • Use the parental control features that come with many devices. Other child-proofing steps include blocking in-app purchases and one-step payments, and disabling location tracking.

Along with eating nutritious food, getting enough exercise and being careful while playing outside, teaching age-appropriate internet use promotes your child’s safety and healthy development.

If you’d like more information about how Little Sunshine’s Playhouse & Preschool® incorporates technology into the preschool curriculum, visit a location near you today!

Check out our previous blog posts to learn even more:

How Little Sunshine’s Playhouse® Promotes Social Skills for Preschoolers  

The Importance of a Healthy Breakfast for Preschoolers  

Technology in Preschool Enhances Interactive Learning at Little Sunshine’s Playhouse®