Technology is great, isn’t it? It’s what has advanced our society over time. A long time. But, what if technology is actually doing more harm than good when it comes to our children?
I recently read an article written by Sue Palmer, who has been studying the impacts of technology on children for over a decade. She has published over 200 books, TV programs, and software packages for teachers and children. Palmer first wrote about and warned of the dangers of too much screen-time having a negative impact on our children’s mental and physical health 10 years ago. That’s when TV and violent video games were a bigger focus than iPads and other handheld screens. I was shocked and frightened by what I read, so I want to share it with you.
“When it comes to spending a childhood in front of a screen, this generation are like lab rats. The long-term impact is not known.”
What's in this post?
- 1 “When it comes to spending a childhood in front of a screen, this generation are like lab rats. The long-term impact is not known.”
- 1.1 Here’s what we do know:
- 1.2 “The boom in iPads and smartphones has coincided with further deterioration in the physical and mental health of children of all ages.”
- 1.3 Techno-Tots
- 1.4 Long-term damages of too much screen time
- 1.5 “A whole generation could grow up WITHOUT the mental ability to create their own fun, devise their own games and enjoy real friendships- all because of endless screen time.”
- 1.6 “Real play is driven by an innate desire to understand how the world works, [so] it provides the foundation for academic learning.”
- 1.7 “Real play develops initiative, problem-solving skills and many other positive traits, such as a can-do attitude, perseverance and emotional resilience.”
- 1.8 The Problem with Screens
- 2 “If the next generation is to grow up bright, balanced and healthy enough to use technology wisely, parents need to take action.”
WHAT? Lab rats!!? I don’t know about you, but I do NOT want my children to be the subject of some “experiment”, or a lab rat. But, she has a good point- technology hasn’t been around long enough for us to fully know the long term effects of it. Many of us are weary of new medicines and other medical advances when they first come out, or people often say not to buy the first model year of a new vehicle so that the manufacturer can fix all the defects, so why are we so quick to embrace new technology without giving it much thought?
“The boom in iPads and smartphones has coincided with further deterioration in the physical and mental health of children of all ages.”
Palmer argues that “real play is a biological necessity” and that it’s “as vital for healthy development as food or sleep.” The brain is rapidly developing when children are young, so if children aren’t having authentic experiences, and seeing real life stuff in person, not on a screen, they’re missing out on developing the part of the brain that helps with social and imaginative responses. If those aren’t developed in childhood, it’s hard to develop them later in life. So, by trying to provide our children with “everything,” we might actually be harming their development when we give them screens.
“A whole generation could grow up WITHOUT the mental ability to create their own fun, devise their own games and enjoy real friendships- all because of endless screen time.”
That’s scary! But, it makes sense. Today’s children aren’t out running around, making forts, climbing trees, riding bikes until the streetlights come on, playing ball just for fun, and so on. They’re not out camping or baking in the kitchen. And, heaven forbid that they help with chores or other household tasks! Those are all examples of important activities for developing physical skills.
“Real play is driven by an innate desire to understand how the world works, [so] it provides the foundation for academic learning.”
If they’re watching something on a screen or playing a game with a set of rules and built in parameters, they’re not fully using their imagination and being creative like they would be if they were doing pretend play. When children are being entertained by a screen instead of interacting and playing with others, they are missing out on the social interaction of playing with someone else, learning how to get along with others, developing empathy, and seeing how someone else does something. Those are hard skills to teach using a device and hard skills to develop later.
“Real play develops initiative, problem-solving skills and many other positive traits, such as a can-do attitude, perseverance and emotional resilience.”
Screen time isn’t bad only because it has negative connections to things like attention disorders, but because it also prevents infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and children from doing other activities that are vital for developing healthy bodies and brains. For example, infants and toddlers like to interact with others, but if they get instant gratification from a screen, they stop showing as much interest in people and things in the real world. As much as technology and screen time has become an increasing part of our world, we still need to be able to live in the real world. And, if we want our future generations to be able to function, respond to crisis, make laws, and so on, we need them to be able to interact with others because certainly we don’t expect all jobs to be replaced by technology.
“If the next generation is to grow up bright, balanced and healthy enough to use technology wisely, parents need to take action.”
No. No, it won’t. Technology develops so rapidly that any IT skills that your child learns before they’re 7-8 years old will be outdated by the time they reach their teens. Again. Just like with food and dieting, moderation is key. Too much of something is never good. The same thing applies to screen time. It’s possible to help them learn keyboarding skills, for example, without letting them spend the majority of their day on a screen.
Using screens as a babysitter for hours on end will hinder children. You can’t replace self-confidence, emotional intelligence, resilience, social skills, creative thinking, problem-solving skills, and good attention spans with anything else. These are vital to having a well-rounded child who is prepared for kindergarten and beyond. Too much technology gets in the way of that. And, we may not know the full extent of it, as our children are the lab rats for future generations. So, please, limit screen time for your children. For more about the American Pediatric Association’s recommendations, visit their site.
Cutting back or eliminating screen time won’t be easy. It’ll be a lifestyle change for you and your child(ren), but it’ll be worth it.
Related post: How to Lower the Risk of a Speech Delay in Children