These days children are called ‘digital natives’. This is because they grew up with the internet and modern technology like smartphones and tablets. An increasing number of kids have their own devices and on average are spending more and more time on them.1 Many children are starting to become reliant on (I would say addicted to) technology. Therefore, many parents are concerned that technology can negatively affect their children’s development and social skills.1,2 But are we over-reacting and blaming technology for old-fashioned bad parenting? Hence the question, how good or bad is technology for a child?
Technology can have various negative effects on a child and their development.3
Technology does not cause health issues. The problem is the way it is used. Devices require that a child sit still in front of them. Consequently, the child is not playing outside and burning their energy.1,4 Technology has made it so that kids don’t exercise as much as they should or as they used to.3 In addition, often screen time is also accompanied by snacking, which can lead to weight gain.1
Technology lets kids stay in touch with family and friends, not in person, but online. The overuse of online social platforms affect kids’ social skills. This is because these skills are developed through in-person interactions. Kids need to learn skills like taking conversational cues, using and understanding facial expressions, and making adequate eye contact. These are skills that cannot be learned from a screen (text) alone.1
Technology makes it difficult for children to form meaningful long-term relationships with parents, family, and friends (or acquaintances).4 If your child is spending a lot of time on a device, they’re probably replacing social interactions with people their age with screen time.3,5
Technology can inhibit kids from learning how to deal with their emotions.3,4 With the games and entertainment on devices and little kids wanting to play with them, it’s easy for parents to just hand devices over than rather saying to go play outside. Oftentimes when kids throw a tantrum or cry, it’s tempting to give them a device to shut up. However, giving in rather than letting a kid deal with their emotions has a negative effect on the development of coping strategies in those moments, and on learning how to self-soothe.4
Most devices give off blue light and our sleep is disturbed by this light when we spend a significant amount of time in front of a screen at night. The blue light messes with the production of the sleep hormone.5
Kids and teens who use their devices before they go to sleep are twice as likely not to get sufficient sleep that night. Obviously, sleep is very important for a kid who is still growing. Not only that, but sleep also affects their health, weight, and attention span.1
If your kid is exposed to technology most of the time, it can change the wiring of their brain. If your kid is in front of a screen often, their brain adapts to that way of processing information. For example, scanning information instead of in-depth reading.4 This skimming mentality inhibits the ability to think deeply and critically.5
Children are also not doing many activities that require them to pay attention for extended periods of time, like reading or playing make-believe. Thus, they get used to a lot of visual stimulation and the problem with that is that it doesn’t require the child to use their imagination – which is problematic for many reasons.4
Attention span and academic performance
Technology can definitely influence a child’s academic performance. Firstly, technology can lead to a shorter attention span and reduced ability to focus. Apps and websites are designed with many visual stimuli and that makes it difficult to focus on a textbook or teacher.5 Secondly, they are also not engaging with written text as much as previous generations. Therefore, they find it difficult to deal with long texts.4
Lastly, technology makes kids accustomed to jumping between tabs or tasks, and this makes the brain’s attention span shorter. As mentioned, kids’ brains are being rewired. This also links to the instant gratification culture we’re faced with today.4
Other developmental constraints
If your child is staring at a screen, they are missing out on valuable observational information. Kids learn by observing. They have to see how adults and siblings react to situations, hear how they speak, and learn facial expressions. All in all, this affects the kid’s emotional development.4
With the use of apps and social media, total strangers and perverts can easily get access to your child. Through the internet, they could also be exposed to violence, sex, and crude language.6
Technology isn’t all bad – there are quite a number of benefits.
One of the most obvious benefits of technology is how it enhances education.1 Where would we be without the internet in this pandemic?
Technology can enhance the learning experience and has become a big part of a lot of educational environments and classrooms. Technology can help make traditional lessons and the learning process more engaging for students. It includes using things like digital projectors, the use of videos, apps, and games.1,3,4 However, technology in the classroom is only beneficial when it’s used in real-time and in collaboration with in-person instruction where someone can ensure that the students understand and progress.3
Kids can easily be home-schooled anywhere in the world with the internet.4 Even if your child isn’t home-schooled, they will still benefit from the internet. For instance, if they’re struggling with homework, there are probably a million YouTube videos about their question online.3
Also, young kids can learn things like numbers, colours, and letters long before they go to school or preschool. There are many apps and videos that introduce kids to these concepts.1
The use of technology does not mean that your child will not be a well-rounded individual. When kids engage with others in a social manner, they can become well-adjusted. The social activities can either be in person or online, but must be healthy social interactions.2 In fact, technology can be used to cultivate or enhance social activities.3 For instance, the internet can help children stay in touch with family and friends who live far away.1 A balance between online and in-person interactions is key, though.
Important work-related skills
It’s obvious that technology has become a huge part of our lives in this day and age.1 As the workplace changes with technological advances, computer skills are going to be more important in it. If kids are exposed to technology from an early age, they’ll be more prepared to fill those jobs one day. As you know, jobs in IT and tech are here to stay, so kids need to be prepared.1
Also, certain online games can exercise one’s decision-making and problem-solving skills.4 There are certain video games that have a survival mode – like Minecraft, for example. The aim is to stay alive for as long as possible. Therefore, kids who play it need to be able to make decisions quickly and outlast their competitors. Here kids work on their own to achieve a goal or overcome a challenge – very good skills to have.1
In terms of safety, technology is good and bad (see the previous section). Technology can keep a child physically safe because most phones have a tracking feature and GPS location. You can also install various apps on your child’s devices to keep track of their whereabouts.6
What can you do?
Regulate their screen time
The important thing is that children don’t spend all their free time in front of a screen (TV or phone).2 Regulate how much time your kid is spending on devices by setting a time limit on their screen time.3,5
Regulate the interactions
Instead of only limiting a child’s screen time, also ask yourself how you can make their interactions online positive.2 For instance, insist that they may only use their device for a specific purpose. These could include research, messaging a friend, or watching one or two shows.5
Be an example
Parents also need to make sure they’re setting a good example in terms of device and internet usage. It’s so easy to become distracted by a phone or social media. Learn to put the phone down. Show your kids what a healthy relationship with technology looks like.5,6
Explain the dangers and negotiate
Sit your kids down and explain the negative effects of technology overuse to them. Make them understand the importance of regulating it.5 Another solution you could try is to write phone or device contracts with your kids. Then you have to find a middle ground of what will work for both parties. This includes how and when your kid may use their devices and the internet.6
Technology hasn’t necessarily brought new problems but has given a new space for those problems to breed. Things like bullying, unwanted sexual attention, and peer pressure have always existed (among young people and adults alike).2,6 For some, technology has become a convenient scapegoat.
If you understand how technology influences your child then you can better control it. Thus, you can get the benefits and minimise the disadvantages.4
The best advice is to use technology in moderation.1,6 Technology isn’t the problem; the overuse of technology is the problem.4
That was my two cents on the topic. What do you think? Do you agree? Let me know in the comments.
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I used these sources: