Risk vs. Benefit – Technology use by young children
I just heard yet another well meaning parent utter those infamous words to validate technology use by their young child… “But they like it”! Other phrases I’ve heard are “Well…everyone’s doing it, so it must be okay”, or “It’s just fascinating the way he can move Apps around on the screen at only 2 years of age”! I remember being fascinated when my kids knew their colors, or could point to animals and imitate sounds. Young children are amazing period. The fact that they can operate a touch screen is really no more fascinating than early reading, parents just think so because technology is so new and seemingly complex to operate. While there is no doubt that technology has an undeniable allure, an attraction that is difficult even for many of us adults to ignore, how much is too much, and when do we as adults step in and limit use?
The majority of brain development occurs during the ages of 0 to 3 years. This rapid rate of development happens largely in relation to the child’s environment. If the infant’s environment is nurturing, predictable and offers critical factors to promote development, the infant attains optimal physical, mental and social growth necessary to achieve academic success. If the infant’s environment is one of sedentary and isolative technology use, combined with limited touch and human connection, the infant’s development will be impaired, consequently affecting all aspects of their future success. Animals are born fully developed, with horses achieving running ability within hours of birth. For human infants, coordinated running may take up to two years, providing they move.
In order for children to achieve adequate motor milestones, the Canadian Paediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended NO technology use for infants 0-2 years, and 1-2 hours per day for toddlers and children. Yet over 25% of infants and 75% of children have a technology device in their unsupervised bedrooms, and children are now averaging 7.5 hours per day entertainment technology. It has been estimated that 10% of children have a technology addiction. Every time a child plugs into a device, they get a hit of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that provides the child with a high and euphoric feeling, a bit like cocaine. The more this child shoots, stabs, stomps and slices their opponents while playing violent video games, the more dopamine their brain produces, offering more fuel to the fire. Adrenalin and cortisol levels stay at a chronically high state in this child’s system, effects of which we know little, and slowly but surely over time the child becomes addicted. The 21st century is the first time in the history of humankind to witness children with addictions.
I encourage adults (parents AND teachers) to think in terms of a risk to benefit ratio when considering exceeding expert guidelines for technology use. The risks are obesity, developmental delay, sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression, aggression, unsociability, attention deficit, and low grades. The benefits are entertainment, escape, immediate gratification, babysitting, and soothing. While the benefits might seem very attractive to parents and teachers at first glance, long term usage of technology for these reasons can be problematic to say the least. As the dopamine hits keep coming, the usage escalates, creating a monster where there used to be a child. All too soon, the device has wedged its way in between adult and child, an interface which limits human connection and interaction. The adult and child lose their ability and desire to engage in face to face communication, further fuelling the addiction, In the absence of the parent, the child`s only choice is to attach to a device. Technology is predictable, pleasurable, and there whenever you need it. A quick fix at best, this disconnection from humanity is not good for child nor adult, and exacerbates problematic behavior to a level requiring intensive management.
So this summer, when the kids are rangy and adults want some peace, take a deep breath and say “Not now, I want to play with you!“ Grab a frisbee, football, or even just yourself and get outside into nature`s great healing aspects, and have some fun with your kids. While studies show one in three parents find play boring, or don`t know how to play with their children, that`s not YOU! You remember all the fun you had without any toys, just your imagination and a few other kids is a great recipe for a great time.
Best of luck and have an AWESOME summer!!!
Cris Rowan, OT (Reg), BScOT, BScBi, SIPT
CEO Zone’in Programs Inc. and Sunshine Coast Occupational Therapy Inc.
6840 Seaview Rd. Sechelt BC V0N3A4
604-885-0986 O, 604-740-2264 C, 604-885-0389 F
websites: www.zonein.ca, www.virtualchild.ca, www.suncoastot.com
Author of “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children”