My kids are addicted to technology. No joke. I am constantly saying, “Can you please put your phone away to walk down the stairs?” or “Please don’t take the iPad into the bathroom.” My son has started propping his device outside the shower to watch Minecraft YouTube videos while he bathes after soccer practice.
Technology was heavily promoted to parents in the early 2000’s, when my oldest was born. We were encouraged to let infants and toddlers watch “Baby Einstein” and other shows so they could learn shapes and new languages. Smartphone apps were quickly introduced to the toddler set, where kids could sit in strollers and learn how to trace the alphabet. It was great for me as a parent. I had a built-in babysitter and my kids were learning! Win-win.
Except it probably wasn’t. According to a recent study by San Francisco-based Common Sense Media, 38 percent of babies under two-years-old use tablets or smartphones, up from 10 percent in 2011. The same report says that as the technology’s popularity with the diaper-wearing set outpaces what is known about the neurological and cognitive impact on their brains, child development experts say less—or no—exposure may be best in the first 24 months.
The problem is, the technology addiction perpetuates. We really don’t have enough knowledge on what this does to our kids. Sure, they may be smarter. They may be tech-savvy. But I see some harm coming out of it as well.
My children can’t stay off their phones for more than five minutes. I’ll admit I’m victim to it as well. A chime. A beep. A call. That little ping or vibration of an alert sets our heart racing and our fingers itching to grab the phone to see who needs us. Someone always needs us, even if it’s a news alert or a website coupon. It’s difficult to turn off that need to be connected, and our kids (especially teenagers) thrive on that connectivity. My daughter has told me on more than one occasion that she would be ostracized if she didn’t respond fast enough and engage on social media. The element of instant gratification is troubling.
Cyber bullying is another concern. When your child can’t gauge the reaction of the person they are writing to, it’s very easy to say something cruel and insensitive via text or on someone’s social media feed. A recent study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, shows that elementary school students who went several days without technology were better able to read nonverbal emotional cues. I have had multiple talks with my kids about this, and I’m quick to jump in if I see something that can be construed as bullying. We talk about what they say and what others are saying as well.
It’s difficult to keep up with technology as a parent. My children are constantly downloading apps, and many aren’t what they appear to be! My daughter once downloaded a calculator app that was actually a place to hide photos. I quickly nixed that one, but had I not been on top of it, I could have easily missed the download. Parents are insanely busy as it is, and now this is added to the mix? The same goes with the “recommended” portions of apps like YouTube and Instagram. My children are constantly exposed to inappropriate media based on innocent searches. Parental controls have difficulty keeping up.
Technology can sometimes bring people together, but it seems more often than not it keeps us apart. I see children sitting together in public, but all on their phones. I know when I was younger I walked around with a book in hand, and I even rode my bike while reading, but this feels different somehow. Especially when it spills over into family game night or dinner at a restaurant. I constantly have to ask them to put their devices away, while at the same time forcing myself to do it too.
Only time will tell, but for the moment I struggle a lot with rules around devices, time allowed, and what they can do. It seems a bit out of control at the moment and I’m hoping to reign it in! I’d love to hear your thoughts on technology and kids.