Author: Santhi Latha
It has become a common sight to see children as young as two or three years old, buried in a gadget, usually a phone, laptop or a tablet. Parents of course justify the availability of such access in many ways including, “They learn a lot from it”, “It keeps them occupied and out of trouble”, and “But it is an educational tool, isn’t it?” Is it an educational tool? Indeed it is - there is no denying the value that supervised access to technology has contributed to education and the broadening of horizons, the opening of minds, and the exposure to information. But the real question to ask when a parent arms their child with a tablet or any other technology device – particularly one that has access to the internet – is: are they aware of the possible problems that they may be courting?
Before the explosion of technology into communications specifically, it used to be television - and of course, there were many articles written about the harm from over-exposure, including affected eyesight, addiction and exposure to inappropriate content. The latest technology devices have now replaced the television, and what is a point of concern is the fact that these devices are portable, while television is not. The objective of this article is not to condemn or criticize parents who choose to allow their children access to such devices, but merely to create awareness about the potential impact of these devices on the cognitive, physical and social development of children. Numerous international organizations including the Kaiser Foundation and the American Academy of Pediatrics have conducted research on the impact of access to technology on children outside the classroom.
It is broadly recognized that the unsupervised use of technology by children may have adverse effects including:
(1) Extensive exposure may have implications on the physical wellbeing of children - exposure to small screens (even tablets) which require children to focus intensely over long periods of time may be detrimental to their eyesight. Constant non-physical activity can inhibit the body from developing as well as it could - particularly the spine, back and neck as children remain hunched over gadgets each day.
(2) Many internationally renowned child development professionals like Glenn Doman hold that the child’s brain develops extensively from the ages of zero to nine years. This means that whatever the child has exposure to during that time can either strengthen or limit the child’s mental growth. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children aged between 0-2 years should not have ANY exposure to technology, while those aged between 3-5 years should only have access for a maximum of one hour each day. According to them, even older children aged between 6 and 18 years, should be limited to a maximum of 2 hours exposure each day.
Is there a risk that exposure to technology more than this could impact on your child’s brain development? Yes. Some of the risks from over-stimulation include:
(a) Attention deficiency. The child is unable to focus on activities such as reading, writing, drawing - you will commonly see this manifest in the child’s performance at school;
(b) Increased impulsiveness. Children (even teenagers) play computer games that provide instant gratification. This means that their brains become wired to expect instant reward for the impulsive decisions that they make while playing the game. Children who suffer from this can become demanding, unruly and difficult to control because real-life does not fulfill the expectations that gaming has created for them;
(c) Delay in cognitive development. Children are naturally constantly learning, absorbing and soaking up knowledge through their actions and interactions with the world around them. Regular access to any form of computer games may delay normal cognitive development because the child becomes a prisoner in the games played. Parents will often see outcomes of this in the classroom, when the child may be disruptive due to boredom and unable to focus on traditional learning requirements such as reading, writing and counting - which do not offer the excitement, fast pace and instant gratification of computer games.
(d) The risk of addiction. While addiction is a strong word to use, it is imperative that parents understand the Pandora’s box that is being opened by providing children with unlimited and unregulated access to electronic devices - sleep deprivation, reduced access to physical activity, less opportunity to interact with people generally and other children specifically.
If your child already has access to a specific device regularly, it would be a useful experiment to take the device away for a significant period of time and watch for the reaction or response from the child. If your child constantly asks about the device, or about when they can gain access, or become temperamental and moody, you may already have a problem. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
While there are so many plus points to the use of technology both inside and outside the classroom, the point of concern is when parents let go and stop paying attention to what the child is doing with this access. We must not assume that the child is astute enough to make decisions about what is good or not, what games are acceptable or not, how long to play for or not. It is critical that we understand that not all games are educational and that our children need to be monitored as they have access to these devices and their content. Most of all, we must not forget that they are children.
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