Is too much technology a bad thing for kids?
| March 13, 2017
Does this story sound familiar to you? It is a typical weekday evening at home. Our family has just finished eating dinner together. The kitchen has been cleaned up, lunches have been packed for school the next day, and my wife Erica and I both sit down and start to scroll through the many notifications that have popped up on our phones from both email and social media over the past couple of hours.
Before we realize it, half an hour has passed and we are startled by the chiming of the clock in the dining room. As we both look up, we notice our children are doing the exact same thing that we are — mindlessly scrolling through things on their devices.
We both lock eyes on each other, and our expressions tell us we are both thinking exactly the same thing. Has too much technology started to become a bad thing for our kids, and us?
Earlier this month, Education Week's Matthew Lynch blogged about how screens can turn kids into "digital addicts." Lynch noted recent research has shown that prolonged use of digital devices such as phones, tablets and video games can produce similar effects on the body as drugs do because these devices stimulate the frontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls execution and impulses.
Prolonged time spent staring at digital screens can increase dopamine levels, and this explains why children can become emotional and upset when a device is taken away from them. Lynch went on to quote Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of neuroscience and human behavior at UCLA, who refers to digital devices "electronic cocaine," and also researchers from China who refer to them as "digital heroin."
Technology use by children and teens is on the rise, both in school and in the home.
According to this 2015 Washington Post article, teens spend nearly nine hours per day consuming media, including television, internet and social media, music and video games. This is up from an average of seven and a half hours in 2010, according to this Kaiser Family Foundation study. For preteens and younger children, the Washington Post reported an average of six hours a day spent on devices in 2015.
In recent years, with the rise in popularity of thousands of ed tech companies that are producing quality technology solutions that allow educators to personalize learning and engage students in deeper understanding of concepts, parents like my wife and me are left wondering how to approach the use of digital devices at home with our own children. Do we ban devices completely? Do we look to place our children in schools that limit time on devices?
The problem we face is that our global society as a whole — particularly the workplace — is also becoming increasingly dependent on the use of technology. Banning technology all together is not the best long-term solution for our children because it will not help them develop the necessary coping skills to know when to use technology and when it is time to take a break from it.
Instead, we fall back on the suggestions proposed by Lynch in his blog: "The answer is somewhere in the middle — let your child enjoy electronic devices, but set time limits. Also, take advantage of that screen time by combining fun with education, such as downloading educational games or apps, so your child is enjoying the device while also learning."
A recent Digital Trends article provides parents with several ways that parents can limit their kid’s technology usage. Their suggestions include such strategies as:
- Talk to your children about the importance and need for time restrictions on devices
- Set rules for time restrictions, and follow through on them
- Encourage outside activities that naturally take children away from their devices
- Make use of an app that can set limits on devices. Two such apps that work on both Apple and Android platforms are Kidslox and Mobile Guardian.
As a parent, part of me has to learn to take a hard look in the mirror when I think about my children's technology use. Despite my best efforts, I often find myself spending too much time on my device at home, and I know that my children use me as a role model.
I have started to learn to not carry my phone on me in the house, and to try to leave it out of reach to prevent unnecessary use. I have also tried to curb my use of social media for personal purposes in recent weeks.
My hope is that I can be a better role model for my children, because all of us could benefit from recognizing when too much technology has become a bad thing.
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