To some, it’s cute to see a toddler deftly swiping through photos on a smartphone, or launching videos on a tablet. And, given the prevalence of technology in classrooms, there are arguments to be made for starting your kids on tech early.
But in recent years, the ubiquity of smartphones and the increasingly dominant role they play in our lives have begun to give experts pause. What are these devices doing to our brains? And, potentially even more alarming, what could their use be doing to our children’s more malleable brains?
News stories emerged last year (2018) about Silicon Valley executives imposing strict limits on the use of technology by their own children. That made people sit up and take notice. The very people who invented these devices and market them to us so aggressively have doubts about their effects?
“A wariness that has been slowly brewing is turning into a region-wide consensus: The benefits of screens as a learning tool are overblown, and the risks for addiction and stunting development seem high,” the New York Times rather breathlessly exclaimed in an October 2018 article under the headline ‘A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley.’
The Times had another story in the same package about how tech executives requiring their nannies to act as tech cops, strictly monitoring the use of phones and tablets by their charges. “Almost every parent I work for is very strong about the child not having any technical experience at all,” One nanny told the Times. “In the last two years, it’s become a very big deal.”
But is the growing fear about the effects of tech on kids real, or is it an invented menace based in ignorance and unfounded rumor, like the deplorable anti-vaccination movement?
According to recent research, there are real reasons to worry. In particular, a study published in the highly reputable medical journal The Lancet last year found that only 5 percent of children ages 8 to 11 get enough sleep and exercise and little enough screen time to foster healthy development. And 63 percent of children exceed the recommended two-hour screen-time limit.
“Children who did not meet all three criteria performed worse on thinking, language and memory tests than kids who met the recommendations, according to the study,” the Washington Post reported. “But reduced screen time was positively linked to superior mental performance, the study found.”
This is all well and good. But in some cases, parents have come to rely on tech devices as distractions for their children, allowing adults to get stuff done around the house. That’s understandable, of course, but if tech has become too much of a parenting crutch, to the detriment of children, then something probably needs to change.
Here are some tips from the website “Net Nanny” about limiting screen time:
- Teach children that using the internet for entertainment is a privilege that is earned after other responsibilities (i.e. homework, chores, studying, or sports/instrument practices) are finished.
- Plan family or friend activities that do not include the internet or watching TV.
- Keep all laptops, cellphones, and computers, in a public place where kids can use them in the presence of their family.
- Lead by example. Practice healthy tech and internet use as a parent so your kids have a strong role model. Detach from your phone while spending time with them and don’t let your devices become a distraction from home life.