Undeniably, technology has become a significant part of our children’s lives today. Especially when the pandemic hit, the use of electronic gadgets for things like education, information, and entertainment increased significantly. And although the situation is much calmer now, the level of tech use remains high. But what does technology exposure to this degree mean for your child’s psychological development?
This is what we are going to discuss in this post. We’ll look at:
- Why modern tech is so popular among the younger population
- The positive and negative impact technology has on your child’s psychological development
- And finally, the things you can do to make their tech use a safer, healthier experience.
So, let’s begin.
Rising Tech Use Habits in Children
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), today, children ages 8-10 average around six hours per day in front of screens. Similarly, children ages 11-14 spend an average of nine hours staring at a screen, and youth ages 15-18 spend around 7.5 hours.
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And the American Academy of Pediatrics says that almost a third of that time is spent on a tablet, computer, or cellphone. And the use of technology at this level has a huge impact on your child’s psychological development.
But why are kids spending so much time on their gadgets? How did the vast majority of youths get into this habit?
Smartphones are Cheaper
Today you can get quality smartphones for a low price of $100-$250. Since most people can afford this as a one-off, giving your child a smartphone becomes a no-brainer. After all, with a smartphone, you can constantly communicate with your child, you don’t have to keep them entertained (the phone does it for you), and they’ll have access to a massive database of information. Besides that, it can also help them with school and socializing with their friends.
The price of smartphones indeed fades in front of all these benefits.
A Better Nanny?
With the increase in educational games, entertainment videos, and child-rearing and discipline applications, parents certainly have a hard time not relying on their phones to keep their children busy and give them time to themselves.
This has led to cell phones acting as the babysitter, and children spending most of their time on those gadgets.
Because of being exposed to the cell phone wonderland, children become addicted to their gadgets from a young age. And this continues as they grow.
These are just two of the many reasons why children spend so much time on their gadgets. There are more like:
- Schools are being digitized
- The internet itself is becoming more immersive
- And worse, children are growing up watching their parents nose-deep on their phones.
But is being habituated to using technology really bad?
A Two-Sided Coin
Spending a lot of time on electronic gadgets does have its side effects. However, we can’t ignore the fact that it also has a beneficial side. Here are some benefits children receive from technology use in their growth phase.
Helps Visual-Spatial Development
Research says that playing video games can help children develop excellent peripheral visual and spatial skills.
This is important because, according to researchers from Temple University, children who do well at spatial tasks have a high possibility of achieving incredible feats in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.
Besides that, video games also enhance their general visual-motor skills— an increased ability to track objects and visually search for something.
Makes Them Tech Savvy
As we’re moving further towards a more technological world, digital literacy is an important skill to have. And using modern tech from a young age helps kids build this skill.
Improved Problem-Solving and Decision Making
Modern technology often presents children with many challenges, which in turn, helps them learn crucial skills like decision-making and problem-solving.
Experts say that smartphone applications and games can help set an arena for children to practice the skills necessary to find success down the road.
These are just three of the many benefits that technology brings to our children’s lives. Besides these benefits, for example, modern technology can:
- Lead children to greater independence
- Encourage engagement and imagination
- And help develop core competencies during early education
But, On The Flip Side
But, as I already mentioned above, modern technology is a two-sided coin. This means that along with the benefits, there are also downsides. Have a look.
Harms Attention Spans
One of the most raised concerns among experts regarding childhood technology use is its impact on attention span.
The ability to pay attention for a long time is a gateway to deep thinking. Without it, other cognitive functions suffer, including:
- Reasoning and problem solving
Experts say that children’s ability to focus consistently and effectively lays the foundation for almost all growth aspects.
When you’re using modern tech for information, the kind of attention you’re paying is very different than, say, that of reading a book.
Technology writer Nicholas Carr explains the difference this way:
Imagine a person scuba diving and a person jet skiing.
The scuba diver is submerged in a quiet, slow-paced, visually restricted setting with much fewer distractions. This causes the individual to focus narrowly and think deeply on the limited information in front of them. This is like gathering information from sources like books.
On the other hand, the jet skier is skimming along the water’s surface at high speed, surrounded by many distractions, exposed to a broad vista, and can only focus fleetingly on any one thing. This is like using the internet.
According to Dr. Jim Taylor, increased technology exposure may be severely changing children’s brains. This is because their brains are developing and malleable. And when they adopt the internet approach of thinking from a young age, which is quickly scanning and processing several information sources, this stays with them for a long time. And in turn, we get this:
Today, the average human attention span is 8.25 seconds, which is a decrease of 3.5 seconds from the year 2000.
Reduces Self-Soothing and Self-Regulation
If you’ve ever raised a toddler, you’re familiar with the sense of accomplishment when you manage to successfully distract them and calm them when they’re throwing a tantrum.
In the past, parents would sing lullabies, make funny faces, jiggle stuff in front of the child, and so on. But today, parents have a tempting distraction readily available at their hands: technology.
Usually, showing a cute video on one’s phone calms the toddler. But although this may be an effective strategy to calm a raging preschooler, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this takes away the opportunity for the young ones to learn skills like self-soothing and regulation in those moments.
But what are self-soothing and regulation?
Self-soothing and regulation refer to the ability to manage your behavior, emotions, and body movements when facing a triggering or challenging situation.
And though they may sound similar, self-soothing and regulation aren’t the same as self-control.
Self-control is a social skill that helps one keep their impulses, behaviors, and emotions in check. On the other hand, self-regulation helps you manage challenges in front of you while continuing to pay attention to what’s going on.
Research studies have found a tangible link between the simulated violence commonly found in popular video games and increased aggression.
Experts also say that prolonged exposure to this kind of violence can render children more likely to argue with their peers or elders and act less empathetic and affected by actual violence.
“Children are not only viewing violence, but with virtual reality games, they are actively engaging in a realistic and immersive violent experience,” says Dr. Dimitri Christakis, Director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development (CCHBD). “A media diet is as important as a food diet. Pediatricians and families need to have thoughtful conversations about a child’s media intake.”
Stagnates Physical Activity
As screen time continues to replace physical activities in households worldwide, experts worry that most kids aren’t getting the level of exercise they need for healthy growth.
A 2019 research study by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that 78% of male and 85% of the female children population aren’t meeting the WHO recommendations for everyday physical activity.
Regina Guthold, one of the researchers in this study, said that “urgent policy action to increase physical activity is needed now, particularly to promote and retain girls’ participation in physical activity.”
Dr. Juana Willumsen, a WHO expert on physical activity, also pointed out that over the past 10-20 years, we’ve seen “a real change in the way children use their time. I think none of us can deny the digital revolution and that screens, tablets, and phones have become a part of everyday life.”
Visit WHO’s Physical Activity Guidelines page to learn more about the recommended amount of exercise one should get based on age.
Limits Interpersonal Interactions & Hurts Emotional Intelligence
Children develop emotional intelligence when interacting with their environment, i.e., adults, peers, and acquaintances. This development helps them become emotionally secure and responsive, promoting cognitive, emotional, and social development.
Today, we are at the age of social isolation, even though we’re connected more than ever through the internet. Although sending an emoji on social media may feel like socializing, for our evolution-based brains, we’re just by ourselves staring at a device emitting light.
This causes our brains to think we’re alone, resulting in the brain acting rashly, which is not good for our mental, emotional, psychological, and physical health.
Now, if social isolation is affecting adults to this degree, even though we’ve spent most of our lives not surrounded by modern tech, and actually being in the real world, think about what it does to children who have only ever known how to socialize from their devices.
These are just a few examples of how tech use from a young age adversely affects children. There are more. And all of them have one thing in common—they’re bad for your kids’ physical, emotional, psychological, and mental health.
So, what can you do?
Your Role as a Parent
So now that I’ve pointed out the good and the bad effects of modern technology on your child’s psychological development, I’m sure you’re thinking about what your next step as a parent should be. Should you take away their gadgets because of the negative effects, or let them keep their devices because of the positive ones?
I know this is a challenging decision. But there’s a simple solution to this problem—balance.
See, modern technology has adverse effects. But at the same time, your child must grow to become an adult who is ready to fit in the modern world. So, what you need to do is find the right balance that allows them to benefit from modern technology without being subjected to the risks that tag along.
And here are some of the ways you can do that.
Screen Time Limits
Swiss physician Paracelsus once said, “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; the dosage alone makes it, so a thing is not a poison.”
The same goes for modern technology. If you use it within limits, it will do nothing but uplift you. And if you let it take control over you, you’ll face the consequences.
When you set up screen time limits for kids, they’ll be compelled to use the remaining time doing stuff in the real world. And this bolsters holistic growth rather than the one-sided growth that technology provides.
Learn more about the benefits of setting screen time limits for kids in my separate post entitled, “Screen Time Limits for Kids: How Limiting Kids’ Screen Time Helps Them Physically, Emotionally and Psychologically?”
It is great to give your kids space to explore things without strict supervision. But a healthy amount of moderation is necessary to ensure that your kids are safe from things like inappropriate media, cyberbullying, and emotionally damaging online encounters.
There are a ton of apps and security tools on the internet that you can use to moderate your kids’ electronic device usage. This will ensure that the kids get the benefits of using modern technology without exposing themselves to things that harm them mentally, psychologically, and emotionally online.
Tech-Less Family Time
Family time is important because, as I’ve already mentioned, kids learn a lot of things by watching their elders. And when the adults are on their phones all the time, this behavior passes on to the children.
So, make sure to have tech-less family time at least once a week. Or better yet, make your dinner table a no-phone zone. This will ensure that you and your family enjoy quality time and induce healthy growth in your children.
Learn more about tech-less dinners in my post, “Using Your Cell Phone on the Dinner Table Can Be Detrimental to Your Health.”
Children develop the ability to understand, process, and analyze earlier than you’d imagine. So, if you want them to understand the effects of tech overuse and moderate themselves, you have to talk to them about it.
If your kid is old enough to understand, having this talk can prove really beneficial.
As I’ve repeatedly said on this blog, I am not against technology. I think that it’s one of the greatest things humans have invented, and it has the potential to change the world.
However, we also can’t deny the fact that it has adverse effects.
This is why you need to build a healthier relationship with technology. This way, you can stay ahead of the curve while simultaneously being protected from modern technology’s risks.
The Healthier Tech Podcast by SYB has an amazing panel of experts from different industries explaining how we can make our tech use a safer, healthier experience. So, give it a listen.