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Ten red flags that indicate your child is using too much technology

Includes ten Tech Tips for improved family connection, health and wellness

When working with children with problematic behaviours, at times it's difficult to determine what is causing the issue, and often it's never one thing! This article is designed to help parents, teachers and health professionals understand which child issues might be associated with technology overuse, and offers helpful suggestions to get kids back on a more healthy track.

Sleep deprived, delayed development, obesity, avoids face to face socializing, mentally ill, aggressive, attention deficit, illiterate, can’t self-regulate, and dependent.

  1. Sleep Deprived.

The Canadian Sleep Association recently reported sleep deprivation as a national epidemic in both children and adults, citing technology overuse as the primary causal factor. As technology consumption rises, restorative sleep declines, resulting in careless states of lethargy and apathy. In addition to lowered productivity at work and in school, people who are sleep deprived have higher rates of obesity and diabetes, cardiovascular disorders such as heart attack and stroke, cancer, and mental illness. Children need 12 and adults 8 hours per night of sleep, yet only 40% of Canadians achieve these recommended levels.

Sleep Tech Tips: turn off all tech one hour prior to bed, make bed rooms tech free, and plug router into a timer that shuts off home internet at 11 pm.

  1. Delayed development.

One third of British Columbia’s children enter school developmentally vulnerable (HELP UBC 2009/13). In order to meet developmental milestones needed to grow and succeed, children need to move, touch and be touched, connect with humans, and access nature. Hand a child a device and they are sedentary, isolated, neglected, and overstimulated. Take the device away and they get up, interact with others, and engage in activities that promote optimal development. Playgrounds are the epicentre for child development, and should include age appropriate equipment to challenge older children, teens and adults.

Development Tech Tips: increase engagement in healthy activity and reduce use of tech to 1-2 hours per day, add age appropriate challenges to playgrounds, have family theme nights (cookie night, board game night, flash light park night), and do regular Saturday morning tech free outing to pool, museum, or forest.

  1. Obesity.

One in four children are either obese or significantly overweight, increasing their risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease by 30%. The New England Journal of Medicine in 2012 reported that we are witnessing the first generation of children many of whom won’t outlive their parents. Obesity is causally related to technology overuse, technology in the bed room, and watching commercials for junk food, and is epidemic in both children and adults.

Obesity Tech Tips: never combine eating with a screen, regularly have tech free family dinners (including dinner plan, prep, eat, clean-up), and walk yourselves around the block after dinner – or get your neighbors to join you at the park for frisbee!

  1. Avoids face to face socilaizing.

Tech is a social paradox. While many people think social networking and gaming is making kids more ‘social’, numerous studies cite the contrary – that children who use technology to socialize are reporting more loneliness, isolation, and anxiety regarding peer relationships. Individual performance, whether on Facebook or in gaming, is visible and available for scrutiny, comments, and bullying. The illusion that technology is connecting humanity is quite simply that, an illusion. Disconnect to reconnect.

Social Tech Tips: don’t allow social networking or gaming until 12 years of age (or older if child is socially immature), promote and model social relationships by inviting friends and family for dinners, parties, and outings, and do round table discussion at dinner by having everyone report what was one good thing and one bad thing that happened to them that day.

  1. Mentally ill.

Studies report rising rates of depression, anxiety, obsession, social phobia, addictions, and suicide in today’s children and youth causally related to technology overuse. The question to ask is “Why are so many children, so sad”? In my work I observe a trajectory of problematic behaviors in children associated with what I term Tech Neglect in adults, where the adult prefers the device to their child. When infants are neglected, they demonstrate profound sadness. As these neglected sad infants grow into toddlers, they stomp their little feet and they get mad. Closer to school age, these neglected sad and mad children become bad. Sad, mad, and bad children need parent and teacher attention, love and support. Instead, these sad, mad, and bad children are readily receiving mental health diagnoses and often put on dangerous psychotropic medications.

Mental Health Tech Tips: put down the device and pick up your child, restrict personal device use in daycares and schools and promote social play, and engage children in organized sports and social activities during recess, after school, on weekends, and during summer holidays. Unplug – don’t drug!

  1. Agressive.

A meta-analysis of over 1000 studies (Anderson 2010) on media violence and aggression, showed a 97% causal relationship. Violence breeds violence, and overexposure to violent media content found in TV and video games, especially at a young age, can result in acts of aggression (AAP 2016). Game Transfer Phenomena, where the gamer carries visual and auditory imagery and behaviors from the virtual to the real world, is increasingly the norm with video gamers, resulting in an alarming increase in acts of physical and sexual violence. With the escalation in mass shootings (where 4 or more people are killed), possibly shifting focus from gun lobbyists to video game designers might prove to be a more effective intervention strategy.

Aggression Tech Tips: restrict violent media exposure for children less than 12 years of age, restrict personal device use and unsupervised internet use from all daycare and school environments, and promote physical outlets for pent up energy in home, school, and community settings.

  1. Attention Deficit.

Brains develop in conjunction with the child’s environment. Children who are exposed to enriched environments with adequate movement, touch, connection and nature, have diffuse neuronal connections to all areas of the brain. Children who grow up in impoverished environments with lots of exposure to fast paced entertainment technology, have a poverty of neuronal connections to the frontal lobes, as they are no longer required. Frontal lobes are what separates humans from lower life forms, and are needed for executive functions such as attention, impulse control, and learning in general. Technology is ‘short circuiting’ the frontal lobes. The de-evolution of the human species has begun.

Distraction Tech Tips: decrease exposure to entertainment based technologies and increase engagement in activities that promote imagination and creativity, increase exposure to attention restorative nature with outdoor play and recess, and perform movement based activity prior to academic tasks.

  1. Illiterate.

With escalating and unrestricted use of technology in Canadian schools, Canada is ranked 13th on the world stage in literacy, while China, who averages one hour of education technology per day, is ranked #1 in literacy (OECD 2012). Teachers teach, not computers, yet without any evidence that substantiates wide scale distribution of technology in educational settings, whole schools are tossing pencil, paper and books in favor of tablets. While teens are Facebooking, texting, playing video games, and doing porn on their cell phones in class, teachers are scratching their heads wondering how to manage this new age phenomenon.

Literacy Tech Tips: ensure printing, reading and numerical literacy prior to use of education technology e.g. age 12, restrict use of education technology to one hour per day, and stop requiring use of technology for accessing school agendas and curriculum. It is the right of every parent, student, and teacher to refuse to use technology in school settings.

  1. Can’t self-regulate.

Immediate, compelling, and totally controlled by the user, today’s wide range of entertainment technologies are perfect for the Me Generation who could universally be called “impatient and bored”. From birth (instead of gazing fondly into their parent’s eyes), infants are increasingly being stuck in front of screens, or are watching their parents watch screens. While research shows exposure to screens at 6-18 months of age results in higher incidence of autism and problematic behaviors, parents continue to pull a blind eye. At 1 in 65 (CDC 2015), autism is now considered epidemic (right along with sleep deprivation and obesity). Self-regulation is the salient determinant of future success, yet we are allowing and promoting tech-regulation, with disastrous consequences.

Self-regulation Tech Tips: never use technology to regulate child behavior e.g. as a reward or for entertainment, put the device down when your children are awake – or if you work from home – provide designated times when you are screen free and available for connection, co-regulation leads to self-regulation!

  1. Dependent.

Parents who overuse technology feel guilty, and tend to spoil their children by letting them use too much technology, and/or by doing everything for them. This created dependency is plaguing today’s parents who won’t let their children experience a moment of risk, stating that “everything is dangerous” and “nothing is safe”, so their kids stay inside glued to a device. The results of overexposure to media is a pervasive fear of just about everything, as images become more graphic and frequent. This fear and anxiety of the parent is shifted onto the child, who grows up (or doesn’t) overly dependent on their parents. Statistics Canada in 2012 reported that 52% of young adults between the ages of 18-30 years are not working, are not going to school, and are living at home with their parents.

Dependency Tech Tips: every child should have one chore they are responsible for completing every day, plan for independent living at age 18 years NOW and strategize how to get there, and stop placing parental anxiety and fear on the child e.g. change “You make me so anxious when you bike to the park…text me when you get there, and when you leave” to “You’re 12 years old now and I trust that we have taught you how to be safe. Have fun at the park”!

Cris Rowan is a registered pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker, and author of “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children”. Additional information can be found on Cris’s website www.zonein.ca including Research Fact Sheet, educational videos, and free monthly newsletter. Articles can be located on Cris’s blog www.movingtolearn.ca. You can contact Cris at info@zonein.ca.