The other day I caught my two year old holding my cell phone in her hand as if she were playing a video game and I felt my heart sink. I know technology is in the world but I would like to shelter her from it as long as possible. Despite this, we are no strangers to t.v., computers or smart phones in our household. In the mornings I will oftentimes let her watch a few minutes of “Spider”, or “Charlotte’s Web”, as it is more commonly referred to, while I get ready for work. On the smart phone she talks with her grandmother and looks at pictures we have taken together. However, the questions in my mind about technology and screen time run rampant as she is at a very tender age of development and I only want what is best for her developing brain and personhood. Ask any parent about screen time and their children and more questions than answers will arise. In addition, opinions vary widely, ranging from ‘computers are good for your children’, to ‘I would prefer if my child never interfaced with a screen again’.
Recently, I have written about my own personal beliefs regarding children’s use of technology. I have mentioned that I believe technology interferes with socialization, relationships, and that it is much more important for children to be interacting with other human beings and with nature than with screens.
I have grappled with the question as to why children explicitly should not be exposed to technology and how to respond to the argument that technology is educational.
Given my ideology, how do I respond if a parent says to me, “Yes, I let my child use the ipad and the computer during the day. It’s educational.” Can I say, no, it’s not educational? Of course not. But the following is what I can say.
Children and Technology
Experiential learning, meaning hands-on learning, results in better problem solving skills, creativity and imagination than technology.
- Because technology plays such big role in our lives today, children are often engrossed in two dimensional visual experiences. During that time children are being taken away from the more important, three dimensional, hands-on experiences, social experiences, and experiences in nature.
- The gains that can be made through a computer or an iPad can just as easily be made through some other experience. For instance, counting or the alphabet can be learned by use of a computer, but they can also be learned through experiences that involve interacting with another human being or with objects that they can touch, feel, and experience.
- The rise in technology is resulting in a decrease in the amount of time children spend in nature.
- Children’s brains are not designed to handle the fast moving pace of many cartoons and “children’s” television shows. Slow moving shows like Sesame Street are more appropriate for the child’s developing brain.
- Nature is by far much more important developmentally to children than technology.
- Technology, such as smart phones or computers, are addictive. The more your child plays with them, the more they will want to play with them. Think about your own experience with computer games or your cell phone.
- Children start to rely on technology when they get bored rather than on social relationship and their imagination.
Do the gains made by having your children play with an iPad or a computer outweigh the gains that can be made by having your children engage in imaginative or creative play, in a social experience or in nature? Let’s find out.
Detrimental Effects of Screen Time
According to the Mayo Clinic (2011), too much screen time is linked to the following:
- Obesity. Children who watch more than two hours of TV a day are more likely to be overweight.
- Irregular sleep. The more TV children watch, the more likely they are to resist going to bed and to have trouble falling asleep.
- Behavioral problems. Elementary students who spend more than two hours a day watching TV or using a computer are more likely to have emotional, social, and attention problems.
- Attention problems. Exposure to video games increases the risk of attention problems in children.
- Bullying. Children who watch excessive amounts of TV are more likely to bully than children who don’t.
- Impaired academic performance. Elementary students who have TVs in their bedrooms tend to perform worse on tests than those who don’t.
- Violence. Too much exposure to violence on TV and in movies, music videos, and video and computer games, can desensitize children to violence. As a result, children may learn to accept violent behavior as a normal part of life and a way to solve problems.
- Less time for play. Excessive screen time leaves less time for active, creative play.
Recommendations for Screen Time and Children
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has made very specific recommendations for children in regards to screen time.
For children under the age of two, the AAP recommends NO screen time including background television intended for adults.
- For children over the age of two, AAP recommends limiting a child’s use of TV, movies, video and computer games, to no more than one or two hours a day.
- The AAP states that there are no known positive effects of screen time for children younger than 2 years and potentially negative effects. (D’Arcy, 2011)
In her Washington Post article, D’Arcy (2011) goes on to summarize the AAP’s stance on children and screen time by highlighting that “parents are usually fooled into thinking certain materials are ‘educational’ when there’s no evidence to support that.” She states that the AAP finds “unstructured playtime . . . more valuable for the developing brain than any electronic media exposure.” From a pediatrician’s standpoint, according to D’Arcy, unstructured playtime is “more beneficial for children to develop creativity, problem-solving and reasoning skills . . . . and better for developing motor skills.”
Although there is likely nothing WRONG with allowing your child to watch an hour or so of T.V. a day, or play with your ipad for awhile, the question remains, what is your child missing out on? Why not encourage your child to grapple with finding a way to spend an hour of down time? Why not take the extra-time to find a way for your child to expand their creativity and problem solving skills? It will be worth the effort in the long run.
References and Further Reading
Black, R. (2012). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17495032
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2011). http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/children-and-tv/MY00522
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