I have a question. Is there an app for childhood? Perhaps an iChild? As I raise these questions, I ponder the impact of technology on children, especially young children today. Our children have so many technological choices, driven by us their parents, and their schools that it is a quite dizzying affair. From smart phones, to the internet, television, video games, Nooks and the Kindle, there are more choices before our children, than ever before. This begs the question I often ask myself of ‘what is the proper balance in the development of my children?’ Most parents I know seem to be somewhat moderate on the spectrum when it comes to these choices. Yet there are ‘extreme’ parents who also do not allow any technology and those whose second graders have smart phones, tablets and televisions in their rooms.
Recent studies reflect this phenomenon but do little to answer the question. For example, ABC News reported that a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2010 found that the average kid takes in 75 hours of media every week. Broken down, the average kid absorbs 2.5 hours of music each day; almost five hours of TV and movies; three hours of Internet and video games, and just 38 minutes of old-fashioned reading, each day. This does not include the hour and half spend text messaging each, and the half hour kids talk on the cell phone. This same report found that only a third of the study’s parents put any limits on their children. The heaviest technology users had the worst grades, C or lower. While the lightest users, reported the best grades. Children who had any limits enforced on them, lessened their media consumption by nearly three hours a day. Perhaps Mr. Jobs forgot to create the iTechmonitor? Or, perhaps our schools are not teaching the skills our children will need when they enter the work force that will be so heavily influenced by technology?
There are experts on both sides of the fence as portrayed in a recent Mashable on Social Media. On one side of the fence stands Dr. Larry Rosen, Research Psychologist , Computer Educator, and Author of the book: Rewired:Understanding the i Generation and the Way They Learn. He is a proponent of integrating new technologies into modern child-rearing. While stating there can be a definite overuse of social media, he also wholeheartedly feels it can be very informative and useful in helping young people mature into adults as they try on new developmental selves and acquire technological savvy.
On the opposite side of the fence stands pediatric occupational therapist Cris Rowan author of Virtual Child: The Terrifying Truth About What Technology is Doing to Children, and founder of Zone’in Programs Inc. who feels modern technology effect on children is “bleak and irreversible.” She references the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of no more than one to two hours of screen time per day. She goes further and feels that any time a child spends with a device is ”detrimental to child development.” She discusses the research of Dr. Gary Small, Director of the UCLA Memory and Aging Research Center. Small’s work focuses on how children’s brains today, specifically the frontal lobes, are developing differently than their parents’ due to technology exposure. He writes in his book : iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, “….As young malleable brains develop shortcuts to access information, these shortcuts represent new neural pathways being laid down.” He says that brain chemistry is being changed by technology’s over use. Rowan also cites other studies that suggest that the overuse of technology is also driving an increase in mental illnesses, as the essentials of social interaction (like eye contact, human connection, and communication) are being lost.
While both experts stand on different sides of the debate, they do believe that parents need to set limits when it comes to technology. What can parents do to set limits?
- Not allow television in your children’s bedrooms. Both experts feel that “brain drain technology should be removed from private spaces to be monitored for content and appropriate usage.
- Talk about and experience technology together, according to Rosen
- Rosen suggests evaluating appropriate technology for each age.
- Rosen suggests taking regular tech breaks, such as dinner time and school time, where no technology is used.
- Rowan suggests sacred time, i.e. one hour, one day, one week per year where everyone in the house unplugs.
- Rowan says to encourage healthier technology, i.e. iPads over video games.
- Rosen advocates trusting your child’s technology use, but not giving them free reign over technology. Let them know you will be monitoring their social media sites.
We are in unprecedented waters when it comes to technology. Is there an app for sorting this out? Probably. I might just do some old-fashioned thinking about it; discussing it with my spouse; and then deciding what is a good fit for our family and balances my girls development and learning. One specific suggestion by the American Academy of Pediatrics states that “Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.”
However, is this too extreme? What about the time I sit with my child and we use learning apps? A story released today in the Bangor Daily News states “Few studies looking specifically at tablets and touchscreen phones have been released yet. But research from Georgetown University, published in 2010, can give us a hint of whether interactive screen time has any potential for teaching children as young as 2½ years old. The short answer is yes, but the caveats are many.” Now where is the app for those caveats? Oh the joy of iParenting!
(Note: the American Academy of Pediatrics has designated the week of April 30 to May 6th as a Screen Free Week. The idea is to remove all media from your families life for the week. I have found it to be quite difficult)