Children and Technology: Are you concerned?

“How much time should children spend online or using an electronic device?”

That question is one of the overriding parenting challenges of our modern digital and social age. It’s also a question that has become of particular interest to me as my own children are growing up in this technological environment.

The facts about children’s digital consumption are eye-opening. A 2010 Kaiser Foundation study found that US youths spent more than seven and a half hours a day using a smartphone, computer, television or other electronic device. In another study conducted that year by the Joan Ganz Cooney Centre, which specializes in children’s media, two thirds of children aged four to seven had already used an iPhone. And how did these kids get hooked on digital? The Centre’s own research suggests that most of the iPhones used by kids had been lent to them by a family member. For instance, how many times have you handed over your smartphone to your child to keep them quiet at a doctor’s office?

Technology continues to grow at a rapid rate. The current generation of children has never had the opportunity or experience to grow and learn in a pre-technological age. That being said, it is almost impossible for children today to perceive a world that existed pre cell phones, Internet, iPods, cable TV (and movies on demand), video game consoles, and a host of other technology gadgets that are used and taken for granted daily. It would probably be rather difficult for kids to adjust to life if technology were to suddenly disappear.

There are many pros and cons for children growing up in a technology age. Here are a few of the top advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages

Empowerment
A positive effect of technology is the way innovation provides kids with the tools they need to solve problems. This empowers them to figure out solutions and obtain information they seek. Children today can independently learn due to the innovative techniques technology offers.

Teaching tool
Much of the computer software today is not designed just for fun, but for learning too. These kinds of programs are terrific tools to use in developmental learning and to nurture creativity. There are many software programs that offer math, reading, language, history, science and many other topics kids need to learn and they can do this is a safe, yet fun, environment. In addition, technology creations, such as video or PC games, are great ways for kids to collaborate, experience team-building and how to take turns.

Prepares the for the future
Like it or not, technology is the wave of the future. Today’s kids will be tomorrow’s leaders and working members of society. The future generations will need to effectively be able to understand, work with and navigate technology; not to mention develop newer innovations. Kids who don’t learn technology today will find themselves far behind before they reach middle school.

Disadvantages

May be harmful to health
Technology is often attributed to health problems in children. To a degree this is true. It is not that technology per se causes negative health effects, but rather the fact technology leads to a sedentary lifestyle.

Childhood obesity is on the rise and this is largely probably due to the fact kids today no longer spend a lot of time running around the neighborhood or playing outside games. Partially this is due to technology, where the other part is due to increased fear in society. Whichever the reason, technology is the substitute for a child to spend hours of the day.

Time consuming
Technology is time consuming. Even adults can attest to the fact that hours can fly by before they realize they’ve been online for so long. Video games are not designed to play a few minutes as their predecessors were; today’s games are structured to be much longer before reaching the end. Other items such as social networking sites (e.g., Facebook), cell phones, iPods, portable media players and other gadgets also take up much time.

Encourages instant gratification
One unfortunate consequence of technology is that it teaches children the philosophy of instant gratification. With technology enabling things to be delivered instantly or have constant access, kids today may tend to become easily impatient if they don’t get what they want right away. Children from decades ago grew up with the adage “Patience is a Virtue”, but that adage has become less and less emphasized in today’s world as immediate gratification is experienced with technological use.

Potential addiction
Many suggest that the Internet and other technology gadgets are not only time consuming, but addictive. This is likely true as today’s gadgets are all designed to link to one another so information streamed or shared is not missed. How many kids spend half their days emailing or text messaging to their friends or adding entries on their favorite social networking site? Actually, many adults do this too. Technology does tend to be addictive, most people are lost if one of their gadgets goes on the fritz or service goes down.

The key to balancing the pros and cons of the effects of technology on children is to practice moderation. Parents and teachers can strategically use technology to maximize the benefits and minimize the drawbacks of technology and help prepare children for a future that is bound to be fast moving. By employing them with the skills they need early on, they’ll be better equipped to succeed.
Bahareh Talei, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist
PSY21252
Diagnostic & Counseling Center, Inc.
Phone: (818) 324-6594
Email: btalei@centerdcs.com
Website: www.centerdcs.com

Dr. Bahareh Talei received her Doctorate of Psychology (Psy.D.) from Pepperdine University, Graduate School of Education and Psychology. Dr. Talei is a licensed psychologist and is co-founder of Diagnostic & Counseling Center (DCC). Her experience has primarily been in working with children and adolescents with various disabilities such as autism and difficulties with learning and attention. Throughout her career, Dr. Talei has been actively engaged in the assessment of a diverse population (e.g., pervasive developmental disorder, learning disorders, central nervous system damage) and training of other professionals. Her experience and interests also includes conducting individual and group psychotherapy with family members of children with developmental disabilities and other populations (e.g., depression, anxiety disorders, and infertility).

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