Children have access to a wide variety of technology.
Originally published in the Illinois Chiropractic Society Journal, 12/2/2013
Most of us are aware of the positive impact that technology has on our lives. The benefits of technology affect so many areas of our life and the lives of our children, it is easy to be unaware of how dependent we have become. Manufacturing uses technology to automate processes to improve efficiency, productivity and lower costs simultaneously. Businesses use technology to crunch numbers for inventory and productivity, enabling greater efficiency at a lower expense. Technology is used in communications from email, fax, web meetings, texting, and more. In fact, texting has become the primary source of communication for much of our nation’s youth, surpassing even verbal communication. Technology used in relationships affects how we find our mates (match.com, eharmony.com) and how we keep in touch with family and friends at home and abroad (Facebook). It has changed education from chalkboard to ipad, library to nook, class room to virtual class room. It has infiltrated almost all areas of our lives: banking (yourbank.com), transportation (GPS, expedia.com), shopping (amazon.com), exercise (runnerkeeper.com), and entertainment (netflix.com). Technology’s penetration into every fabric of our lives is mind boggling.
In light of technology’s obvious benefits and green disposition, we must be aware of effects it is having on the developing minds of our children. Gone are the days when kids actually talked to their friends face to face or on the phone, hung out with buddies in the neighborhood after school, played hockey in the street, flew a kite, cycled, skateboarded, roller skated, built a fort, hung out in a tree, caught bugs and other critters in the yard or in the creek. Although unsupervised, we didn’t turn out so bad. Now, we see all of that traded in for texting, online gaming, supervised scheduled play dates (where the kids play video games together or on their own side by side – crazy).
The drawback to this lack of face to face interaction may result in young individuals that are unable to pick up on subtle emotional nuances and read social cues like body language or facial expressions. With children’s exposure to technology occurring soon after they are able to control head motion, these social skills may fade further. This increases the likelihood that they will have poor social skills carried with them into adulthood, and results in increased risk of loneliness and depression.
Inability to pay attention for a sustained period is another immediate concern surrounding increased technological use. Traditionally, most of most of us who are digital immigrants (grew up before the widespread use of technology pre 1980) are used to sitting down and researching from books and printed material which required patience and sustained concentration. In contrast, our youth who are digital natives (a person raised during the age of widespread digital technology post 2000) do their research on Yahoo, Google, Bing, YouTube; while listening to music on the smart phone with the TV on in the background. Essentially, these young minds are used to moving from topic to topic and screen to screen at a blistering pace, often with split screens or multiple monitors or devices. The result is young minds have become hard wired for high speed. It is addictive in nature, and the digital natives may not know otherwise. As a result, we have kids entering schools struggling with self-regulation and lack the attention skills necessary for learning and become categorized as behavior or attention deficit disordered. The next ingredient in this equation is Ritalin, just adding to the problem without getting to the root cause – sound familiar?
Research has also demonstrated that aggressive and violent behavior has been linked to playing violent video games. The demand for increasingly violent video games over the past three decades has been so great that most video games produced today are ultra-violent. When the players identify with the characters portrayed in the games, players can learn and retain aggressive thoughts and behaviors. This is further reinforced by video games that reward players for violence (number of kills, brutality, stealth). Further research suggests that violent video games increase angry, hostile behaviors and thoughts when interacting with peers, teachers and adults.
In addition to the psychological impact technology has on the young mind, we have to also consider the physical impact it is having. We are exchanging outdoor free play and interaction with nature that we have had for centuries during daylight hours for a sedentary lifestyle behind a screen that is available 24/7. As a result, we are seeing obesity and type II diabetes on a steep rise. Studies at Stanford University of Medicine found that children consume 20% of their calories while watching TV, and the calories are usually from unhealthy snacks driven by ads. With kids and adults occupying every moment with a snippet of information, quick video game, text or tweet, we are starting to see stress affecting younger and younger people. Numerous studies have found that increased use of technology that stimulates the visual pathway with bright light and the auditory pathway with loud sound results in increased cortisol levels over prolonged periods. This leaves the young minds in an always sustained fight or flight mode.
In the second part of my article, I will review some findings of a study on how technology has affected school grades, different genders, ethnicity, and ideas on how we can help our children and ourselves successfully cope with our current rapidly changing technological age.
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