“Teens spend nearly nine hours every day consuming media,” reads a Washington Post headline.
“Kids under 9 spend more than 2 hours a day on screens, report shows,” touts a headline from CNN.
Kids are spending many of their waking hours on digital devices, that much is obvious. But what isn’t as clear is the immediate and lasting effects of technology on children and what it means for our future.
From infants and toddlers to tweens and young adults, new generations are being exposed to emerging technologies that are having impacts we are only beginning to comprehend. What we do know is this: The decisions tech companies make about their products — and the way parents police their kids’ behavior — can have lasting effects.
The Case For Children Using Smart Devices
No longer an item risking confiscation, students’ smartphones are being put to good use in the classroom. Teachers ask students to use their devices to look up definitions, create homework reminders, take photos of classwork, or myriad other uses.
Studies support the idea that using certain smart devices and apps in the classroom has a positive influence on learning. One study shows that an app called Martha Speaks increased the vocabulary of 13 five-year-olds by 27%. Another similar app showed a 17% improvement in the vocabulary of three-year-olds.
Some may even argue that television is a far worse form of media than touchscreen devices because watching TV is less engaging.
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It’s not the device itself that is responsible for the good or bad effects, but rather how it’s used. In the above cases, educational learning apps and use cases are employed. The use of the devices is intentional and goal-oriented. The apps have a specific purpose. And the results speak for themselves.
It’s when content is misguided or lacking purpose or helpfulness that proves to be the most damaging for children, resulting in potential social, academic, and psychological distress.
Technology’s Positive and Negative Impacts on Children’s Social Skills and Psychological Development
The time children are spending in front of screens is alarming to many. It’s a problem because the more time they spend on devices, the less time they’re spending engaging directly with others. This human-to-human interaction is essential for a child’s growth and development.
There’s also concern that children may be unable to self-regulate when parents use technology as a calming device. Parents use devices as a distraction during mundane activities, such as waiting for a table at a restaurant or sitting through a church service.
As a result, children do not learn how to control their own emotions. They lack the exploratory, unstructured play that’s critical to healthy development. It affects visual-motor and sensorimotor skill development, both of which are critical to science and math skills.
Since these devices have emerged only in the last decade or so, their long-term effects on childhood development and growth are still not fully realized. Just as you wouldn’t associate the short-term effects of caffeine with the long-term effects of drinking several sodas per day over the course of a decade, you also can’t assume that the short-term effects of technology usage will reflect the effects you’ll see ten years from now. But the available information thus far is already proving that device usage should be carefully monitored, if not avoided altogether.
The Effects of Technology in the Classroom
Regardless of a parent’s technology rules at home, tablets and smartphones have edged their way into classrooms and daycares across the country. Kids as young as two years old have the word iPad in their vocabulary. Touted as learning tools, teachers and school administrators use technology to augment the classroom learning experience.
There are several benefits for educators in employing the same technology kids are already using. For some, it’s a way to integrate something familiar into daily learning. It helps teachers connect with students in ways they’re comfortable with. In this sense, learning becomes a part of daily life, not just something that happens inside the classroom.
But some may argue that kids aren’t learning as much as intended.
One common concern is that there’s no way for teachers to know if students are using their phones to learn or to text friends during class.
In addition, not all children own smart devices, leading to the concern that some kids may feel socially alienated from their peers who bring devices to schools.
These smaller, yet impactful, concerns only reinforce the idea that smart device use should be limited and carefully observed.
What Can Parents Do to Help in These Digital Times?
Technology is our present and future, and it’s important to introduce children to the same devices we rely on each day. But there are right and wrong ways to go about it.
Start by establishing healthy guidelines for your children’s technology use at home. You can limit their screen time by using a tracking app like FocusMe as a parental control. They can only access websites and content you approve.
You can also ensure they’re engaging with content conducive to real learning and development by curating their content access. There have been hints about YouTube possibly eliminating the algorithm-based content selection for kids and allowing parents to hand-curate content for their children. Parents and educators alike should exercise more control over the type of content kids engage with to get the biggest benefit from technology integration.
When used correctly, technology can be a powerful tool in a child’s learning and development. It’s a matter of delivering the right content, and not in excess, to create a positive impact.
Whether you’re a parent, an educator, or simply a hard-working citizen, how technology impacts our children impacts you, too. They’re the future generation who will one day join the workforce, make decisions for future generations, and contribute to our economy. They need the right education, social skills, and psychological well-being to thrive in the adult world unimpeded by any negative lasting effects of technology.
You can help by setting a good example. You don’t have to remove technology from your life. But exercising good judgment when in the presence of children can ensure they understand the place of technology in our lives and how to use it in the best possible way.
While you’re already here, how about downloading our free guide to improve your child’s technology usage?