Is technology making our children developmentally slower?

Although we live in the digital age, and increasingly parents and caregivers are relying on technology to pacify and stimulate children, is that a good thing?

 

For most of us, technology has been been a godsend. Those who are old enough might wonder how we managed without mobile/cellular phones, the Internet, and continuous connectivity. In addition to helping us in our work lives, technology has also become integral to our leisure and recreation. Many of us spend a great deal time a day checking our social networks, surfing online, and viewing online content, all of which arguably are time wasters.,

Having said this, children, especially young children, are also fascinated by technology. For parents, who are juggling all of the responsibilities life can throw at them, a TV, a smartphone, or a tablet computer, can be a true blessing, to give them a moment’s peace and keep children quiet.

However, child development experts have been concerned about the impact of prolonged exposure to technology on children. In a recent rticle, Faith Gealey, chairwoman of the Caribbean Speech Hearing Association, highlighted some of the risks associated with the use personal technology devices by children, based on observations made in the Cayman Islands:

… we see a large number of children with language delays who also have long and frequent screen time exposure… Many children who have long exposure to screen time present red flag characteristics of other neurological and social communication disorders, simply because the nature of technology usage does not promote social and communication development   

  …Research tells us that children who are engaged in technology have diminished creativity and do not interact with other people when compared to children who are engaged in non-technological activities. Although we don’t have specific statistics available for the Cayman Islands, it is safe to say that the occurrences on island are not much different than what we are seeing from other developed countries….

Source:  Cayman Compass

In addition to Ms Gealey’s observations, the research has has shown, among other things:

  • Almost all infants and toddlers are exposed TV or videos every day, usually between one and two hours daily
  • Around two-thirds of three-year-olds watched two hours or more per day
  • If background television is included, very young children are exposed to an average of four hours of television each day.
  • Infant exposure to television has been linked to delayed language development and kindergarten readiness skills
  • Early exposure to TV has also been connected to attention disorders and sleep problems
  • TV use at age three has been linked to behavior problems and to long-term effects on social development, classroom engagement, and academic achievement
  • Even during children’s first three years, educational content makes up only half of what they watch.
  • When the television is on, even in the background, parents talk and play with their infants less often, and when they do, they are less attentive and engaged.
  • Even when children are watching programmes designed to promote interaction, parents watch with them less than half the time, and so those programmes are not as effective as they should be.

Hence, although we are living in a digital age, and so it can be argued that the earlier children are exposed to technology, the better in the long-run, the research does not support this. Moreover, those children are likely exhibit symptoms of being challenged developmentally, due to the fact that they did not receive the right kinds of stimulation as they grew up, and could be at a disadvantage when compared with others in their cohort who do not possess those challenges.. .

In summary, we ought not be using technology as the go-to pacifier for our children, particularly young children. Instead, we, parents and caregivers, still need to actively engage the children under our care, limit their interaction with the TV and other personal digital devices, and use ‘old fashioned’ stimulation such as talking, singing, reading stories, and playing with them, to foster their longer term development.

 

Image credit:  Yoshihide Nomura, flickr

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2 Comments

  • An article I read recently indicated Instagram to be the worst social media in terms of its impact on the mental health of young people.

    There has been an upswing in mental health statistics especially in young people. A lot of it has been due to better detection and awareness but some of it has been attributed to the aloofness young people find themselves in, due to technology – well . . , misapplication of technology, as the article ably informs us. The kids have “idealised” instant and 24 hour friends, online.

    • Kamutula,
      It will be interesting to see how our attitudes, perspective and behavior evolve thanks to technology, and more so among the younger generation…

      However, one of my concerns is the skills that the younger generation might lose, or not develop, which may ultimately put them at a disadvantage with others…

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