Kids and Tech: The Downside

babyphone(Baby with phone. Image shutterstock.com)

In a couple of previous posts, I’ve explored some of the ways that technology can support literacy development, and I explored some early literacy apps that I’ve used and liked.

Today I want to talk about the potential down sides of using tech with kids, and look at some of the expert opinions that detail some of the negative effects of kids and tech.

Starting with this article from Psychology Today: This Is What Screen Time Really Does To Kids’ Brains. The researchers cited identified the following effects of screen time on developing brains:

  • Smartphones, tablets, and other touchscreen devices deliver multimedia, rich content directly to the child. Sounds good, right? But it doesn’t force the child to engage or interpret the information in it – it doesn’t strengthen the child’s creative or cognitive ability.
  • Screen time replaces face-to-face interactions with other people and can reduce their sense of empathy and ability to read other people’s emotions. (The research backs this up: a study from UCLA showed that students who took a five-day break from electronic media and spent a lot of time in face-to-face interaction with peers were more able to read social cues than those who had not taken that break.)
  • It trains the brain to look for immediate gratification – the process in the brain is similar to the process in the body of a substance addict.

As if that isn’t enough, other research-identified impacts of technology include…

  • Says Harvard: The more TV children watch, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese.
  • Says Pediatrics: Kids who have access to screens in the pre-bedtime hours, especially small ones, get less sleep than those who don’t. But this isn’t just behavioral – the blue light of a device’s screen interferes with the brain-body signal that indicates it’s time to sleep, says a pediatric neurologist.
  • And says Psychology Today: screen time is impacting children’s mood and behavior too – by disrupting sleep, affecting the dopamine balance in the brain, exposing the child to light-at-night, causing stress response, contributes to sensory overload, and reducing physical activity.

So what on earth is a parent to do?

  1. Make a screen time plan and stick to it. Common Sense Media studies media use, and has some great resources for managing screen time, determining good sites for children to use, and understanding how technology is useful for learning.
  2. Prioritize other essential means of learning. As much as is possible, we need to make sure we are providing quality face-to-face interactions with other people, engaging with non-electronic toys and games, and getting outside.
  3. Mediate children’s media use. The reality is that parents still need to guide their children’s media use as is appropriate for the age and the child – violence, sex, drug use, and other content needs to be considered carefully. We need to know what our children are doing on their screens and help guide healthy choices.
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