The last time you took your son on a walk to the park, you saw tons of people glued to their phones. You tried waving hello to one of them, but he didn’t even notice. He seemed completely disengaged from the world around him. Naturally, you want to protect your son from these negative effects of technology, but is avoiding technology altogether the best answer?
The Potential Risks of Technology
Researchers at UCLA conducted a study about the effects of technology on children’s social development. The study focused on children’s ability to accurately identify emotions in others and how that ability was impacted by technology use. The researchers compared two groups of sixth grade students, one of which attended a five-day camp with no exposure to technology like Smartphones, tablets, or laptops. The other group just went about their day normally.
Even though the first group of children only went without technology for five days, they were far better at identifying emotions in the photographs the researchers showed them. Being able to accurately identify the emotions of others is a key part of social development. Without this ability, relationships suffer and children can become isolated.
Not all technology is created equal. Games and apps for children that are highly interactive provide more opportunities for learning than passive activities like watching TV. At the same time, these interactive programs for children are also more likely to cause problems in excess. Children can become addicted to them, much like their teenage counterparts can become addicted to video games.
Used in moderation, interactive technology can benefit kids with innovative learning experiences. The key is moderation. Just like the food we eat, the type and quality of the technology we use matters. Take care to choose wisely what your child consumes through tablets, smartphones, and computers.
Use Technology Together
While it’s tempting to distract your little one with an iPad and enjoy a few minutes of silence to yourself, shared technology experiences are more desirable for young children. Using technology in isolation can cause a child to miss out on important social experiences. Playing digital games together, however, helps your child see technology in a more social context.
Not only will you be able to protect your child from inappropriate content, but you can also help him develop a healthy mindset about technology use. Playing games becomes a chance to bond and create shared memories.
Limit Technology at Night
The blue light that comes from devices like computers, tablets, and phones interrupts the natural production of a necessary sleep hormone called melatonin. As a result, kids and adults who use screens right before bed often experience trouble sleeping and/or poor quality sleep.
Children are also highly stimulated by interactive technology like tablets and smartphones. They have trouble transitioning from the high-speed world of technology to the soothing environment necessary for a good night’s sleep. It’s almost like letting your child jump up and down on all the furniture with a bunch of his friends and then expecting him to fall asleep immediately. The stimulation from a smartphone may be less obvious to an observer, but the child still requires a similar amount of time to unwind before bed.
With technology use only increasing, it’s important to introduce kids to the digital world in healthy ways. Avoiding technology may not be practical or completely beneficial. At the same time, the overuse of technology can have a negative impact on young children. To find a healthy balance, focus on making your child’s experiences with technology interactive. Make using your tablet or smartphone a playful time for the two of you to bond. Also, use technology early in the day and turn off all screens long before bedtime. That way, your child will enjoy the benefits and opportunities technology has to offer without missing out on social interaction or a good night’s sleep.
|UCLA Newsroom: In our digital world, are young people losing the ability to read emotions?
|The Verge: Is Technology Scrambling My Baby’s Brain?
|Fred Rogers Center: Can Apps Encourage Parents and Kids to Use Media Together?
|Parents: Why Kids Should Skip the Screens Before (and During!) Sleep