Parenting is facing its biggest challenge to date – technology. Children used to go to their parents for everything from questions that needed answering, to comfort, to simple entertainment. Any parent (and even grandparent) can attest and relate to the apparent reality of iPhone Facetime versus real, eye-to-eye face time. There seems to be more importance and emphasis placed on technology now than human relationship.

Why Steve Jobs Didn’t Let His Kids Use iPads (and Why You Shouldn’t Either)

But the root of the problems seems to start in the home: when was your child first exposed to screen technology? When did they get their first phone, iPad, or tablet? Have they ever had limitations on screen time? Whether you’re aware of it or not, a parent’s answers to these questions can all have developmental, social, and emotional implications for their children. Below, we seek to explore the balancing act that is our children and technology.

Being Born into a Digital Age

The opening of this article may have come across a bit doom and gloom. However, technology and its continued advancement can be hugely beneficial for youth – if implemented and used in healthy ways. In fact, trying to limit your child’s access and exposure to technology can be detrimental to their success in school and the workplace. Because devices like laptops and iPads are becoming integral parts of curriculum, kids need to be well-versed in this vast digital landscape.

A one-off technology crash course won’t be enough to cover everything either. It’s a reality that continues to evolve every day. Look at how far the iPhone has come in the last decade. Kids today will agree: from social media to apps, it all changes so quickly that missing as little as a week (or weekend) can result in a lot of catching up.

The Benefits of Technology for Children and Youth

Here are some concrete benefits from technological devices:[1,2,3]

  • Carefully chosen apps can promote literacy, numeracy, and – though it may seem counterintuitive – social skills.
  • It’s a strange phenomenon but although some kids don’t enjoy picking up and reading a book, they’ll read to varying degrees on an iPad or tablet. If this is the case, encourage them to keep reading!
  • Going to the library has its benefits, but with websites like Google, every piece of information ever can be found with the tap of a few keys.
  • Entrepreneurship has become easy and accessible. From starting niche blogs to online stores to Facebook communities, kids have naturally assumed leadership roles that are having or will one day have great sway in many different spheres.
  • Staying informed and being aware of global events has never been easier with Twitter, Facebook Live, Instagram and Snapchat Stories, and Twitter. Given that these up and coming generations will be the ones voting and being voted in, access to news is paramount.
  • It makes long-distance friendships and relationships with friends, families, and new people so much easier. Remember ‘pen pals’? Technology is simply a faster, more efficient version of pen pals. Although, there will always be something special about sending and/or receiving a handwritten letter.

  • The use of VR (or, virtual reality) devices have entered the classroom and give courses like biology or architecture new meaning. These technological alternatives are a huge benefit for anyone who is more of a hands-on, visual learner. They are immersive in a way that textbooks could never be.
  • While parents may dislike the thought of having a gaming console in the house, video games like Wii Fit encourage physical activity as the gameplay. This enables kids who love video games to still be active rather than sitting for hours on end without standing up and getting their blood going.

The Negative Impacts of Technology on Children and Youth

No matter how much you love technology, anyone who sees a two-year-old on a parent’s cell phone or family tablet has to be a little alarmed. Sure, it’s a quick and easy way to keep them occupied, but at what cost? Starting a child so young on technology can have huge negative impacts on their development and does not allow them to fully develop properly in those first few crucial years. In fact, there are four areas of development that need to be nurtured:[13]

  1. Movement helps foster good heart health and prevent diabetes or obesity. The movement that comes with exploration also helps develop fine motor skills. Many devices are touchscreen and the absence of buttons that can be pushed and pulled can hinder motor skills and mental development.
  2. Touch or tactile stimulation through playing and hugging helps children become comfortable in their own skin. It also helps them to ‘self-soothe’ which refers to a child’s ability to comfort him or herself when they’re upset.
  3. Human connection is important especially between parents and their child. Being an overly involved or overly neglectful parent can have negative effects. However, striking a balance between being protective and allowing your child to explore will help them develop healthier relationships with you, others, and the world around them.
  4. Exposure to nature is a major part of sensory development. Research shows that children who regularly engage with nature are less likely to have developmental disorders and are often better learners.

When parents do not effectively nurture these four crucial areas, they run the risk of stunting or slowing their child’s development. Once you throw technology into the mix, a whole other slew of problems can arise.

The Major Negative Side Effects

It seems ironic that Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, did not let his children use iPads. But if anyone should know the effects – positive or negative – of overusing technology, it’s Jobs.[4]

They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.

Whether you’ve parented or not, you’re likely aware of the challenges that occur when taking away or limiting children’s use of something they love, and also keeping them occupied. With the introduction of cell phones and other devices at such a young age, it seems that attachment is even stronger (and thus harder to break). So, it’s extremely important for any parents, grandparents, mentors, babysitters, educators – whoever! – to know how technology literally changes children. Not always positively.

Technology changes how children think

Over one-third of children under two-years-old in the U.S. are already using technology, which is alarming given that it can literally change their brains’ wiring. Yes, the early adoption of technology may allow kids to pay attention to various stimuli at the same time. However, in the long-run, their attention spans, memory, critical thinking skills, and imagination may not ever fully develop.[5]

Technology changes children’s bodies

While your child may be roaming endless fields, winning wars, or play sports on the screen, they’re still just sitting still. Some kids may argue that the intensity of some games get their heart rates going, but it’s simply not the same. As the rate of childhood obesity continues to rise, some researchers suggest that children’s increased use of technology is also (if not largely) to blame. It’s a simple and unfortunate equation: more technology often equals less exercise.[6,7]

Technology changes how children feel

One study published in Computers in Human Behavior observed two groups of sixth graders at a nature camp, half of which went without access to electronic devices. Over the course of five days, the pre-teens who did not use technology could pick up on emotions and nonverbal cues better than the group with access to technology. Researchers concluded that because of the increased face-to-face interaction, the no-access group became more sensitive to nuances in expression and emotion.[8]

A report from the U.K. also noted that computer gamers who used the Internet at home for over 4 hours a day have an overall poorer wellbeing than those who use it for less than an hour. These stunted social skills and emotional reactions are likely a result of minimal physical contact.[9]

Technology changes the meaning of privacy and safety

While social media apps have been incredibly powerful and beneficial in fostering communities, it comes with numerous risks. The ability to create an ‘online self’ and the anonymity that comes with it has resulted in terrible things such as sexting, cyber-bullying, and online sex crimes. In fact, in 82 percent of online sex crimes against children; sex offenders used social networking sites to learn about their victims’ personal lives.[10] Moreover, everything on the Internet is accessible from innocent cartoons to pornography.

Moving Forward with Children and Technology

All this information can be overwhelming. There are pros, cons, a whole lot of gray area, and that’s okay. No parent-child relationship will be the same as another. It comes down to the relationship you share with your child and starting to set those technology boundaries – if you haven’t already. But it can be challenging to know where to start, so here are some best practices.[11,12,14]

  1. Communicate with your childThe Parent Zone has something called the WWW approach. Ask your child who they’re talking to, what they’re doing online, and where they’re going. Encouraging this openness and transparency with your child will hopefully build a stronger, more honest, and trusting relationship. If your child isn’t old enough to understand what you’re talking about, they probably shouldn’t be holding a phone.
  2. Practice what you preach. If you want your child to look at you when you speak, not use technology at the dinner table – the list can go on – then do the same. If you act as a model for your child, chances are they will react and behave in kind.
  3. Set limits for Internet, cell phone, computer, and video game use. This is extremely helpful to do before buying your child the technology. Many parents face the challenges they do because they buy a phone for their child before talking about the very real dangers and risks of technology.
  4. Be involved and aware of solutions. When a technology-related problem comes up – and they will – you need to know how to address the issues. Your children may know the ins and outs of cell phones, but that doesn’t mean you get a free pass. Keeping up to date with solutions is key and sharing those is even more important. These resources might be your new best friend: NetSmartz, SafeKids, Parent Zone, and Common Sense Media.
  5. Everything – literally everything – you put on the Internet is there forever. Just as you should think twice before you speak, your children should think twice before they post. As a rule of thumb, if you have to think about whether or not you should post something, you probably shouldn’t. From bullying to lost job opportunities, keeping a G-rated internet presence is the best approach to using technology.
  6. In the face of online issues: Parent, Don’t Panic. This point comes full circle to the first one: communication is key. It may be tempting to get angry and criticize your kid for an online issue. But if your child comes to you for help, do your best to be gracious in your response. Think of a time when you were in their position and use the problem as a teachable moment. It only takes one bad experience to turn a child away from a parent or parental figure. That’s the last thing we want to do to a generation who so badly needs proper guidance and preparation for the future.
  7. Stick to the screentime and digital media usage guidelines, especially for babies. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants younger than eighteen months should not be exposed to any digital media. After that, it’s at the parents’ own risk. For children between 2 and 5 years of age, they can have screentime but for no more than one hour per day. As for children 6 and up, parents should really consider coming up with a plan that they thoroughly explain to their children.

As we mentioned earlier, these boundaries will look different for every family. Try a few different methods starting with the points we provided above. Technology can be powerful and beneficial if used properly, and you have the power and influence to get your kids off on the right foot.

[1] http://triumphyouthservices.com/technology-and-teenagers/

[2] http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/media_benefits.html

[3] https://techcrunch.com/2016/01/23/when-virtual-reality-meets-education/

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/11/fashion/steve-jobs-apple-was-a-low-tech-parent.html

[5] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201212/how-technology-is-changing-the-way-children-think-and-focus

[6] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/in-the-us-childhood-obesity-is-a-heavy-burden/

[7] http://archive.jsonline.com/news/health/technology-is-negatively-affecting-our-health-according-to-a-recent-study-ub6630h-163364366.html/

[8] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563214003227

[9] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9636862/Overexposure-to-technology-makes-children-miserable.html#disqus_thread

[10] http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/CV174.pdf

[11] https://www.fosi.org/good-digital-parenting/6-best-practices-better-digital-parenting/

[12] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/5-ways-to-teach-kids-to-use-technology-safely/2012/07/30/gJQAbEClLX_blog.html?utm_term=.2ee4a6cb20de

[13] http://www.zoneinworkshops.com/the-developing-child-optimizing-growth-and-learning-through-activity.html

[14] http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/21/health/screen-time-media-rules-children-aap/index.html

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