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Your Children’s Development: How Does Technology Endanger It?

Mar 29, 2018

by editorial team and Sophia Ruan Gushée

 

All parents have used digital screens as babysitters. 

We give our children cell phones to play games, learn, and allow them to watch shows or movies on our laptops or tablets. We also try to protect them from the programs and content our children are exposed to. Few of us think about the radiation exposures from digital screens, but many are concerned about how time in front of digital screens may affect our children's social, emotional, and brain development.

This article explores risks on the mental and physical health of our youth’s increasing interaction with the digital sphere as well as guidelines to protect your children’s health from the effects of the technology surrounding them, especially in your own home.

What do experts recommend?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics, it’s best for children aged 0-2 to be shielded entirely from technology. The Acadamy's recommended device dosage increases only gradually: only one hour per day for children 3-5 years and 2 hours per day for children 6-18 years.

Between educational needs from devices—like tablets and computers—to entertainment-centered devices—like video game consoles and TVs—these numbers are challenging to maintain. It isn’t uncommon for the average young person to engage with digital devices for over 4 hours daily—and often more!

Which devices do you need to worry about?

The biggest concern within the home lies with your handheld devices: cell phones, tablets, and electronic games. It's important that digital screen time for children under the age of 12 years be limited to just when it's truly helpful.

I have married friends who recently had a baby. If they are watching TV while holding their baby, they will mindfully keep the baby's delicate eyes away from the screen at all times.

Research-Based Reasons for Banning Children From Using Cell Phones

The Mental Effects

Compromised Brain Development

The human brain continues to develop through the 20s. So being mindful of factors that affect brain development is important.

Digital time distracts children from real life surroundings: from learning about complex human interactions, reading nonverbal communication, and experiencing how to handle social situations and challenges. 

Based on that, it turns out that unnecessary stimulation—like from overuse of cell phones, internet, tablets and TV—has an adverse effect on the functioning of a child’s brain.

Executive functions: "The executive functions are a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one's resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation."

According to research published in  JAMA Pediatrics Journal, long-term exposure to technological devices compromises the primary functions of your child’s brain. Furthermore, this may contribute to conditions such as cognitive delays, impaired attention spans, and increased impulsiveness.

School Adaptation Difficulties

Your digital devices may also delay your child’s overall development. How?

First, while using digital devices, we don't move. This lack of movement is associated with delayed development.

For toddlers, less than a half hour per day usage of mobile devices may be correlated with expressive speech delays. Catherine Berkin, a Toronto-based pediatrician, found this after examining nearly 900 toddlers. This may negatively effect overall literacy and acumen upon entering school. And lack of physical activity is not great for mental development as well.

Replacing movement with heavy use of technology for children under the age of 12 only results in harm to their physical and mental development as they try to keep up with their school-related tasks and activities.

Digital Dementia

Digital dementia may occur after prolonged interaction with technological devices. Symptoms include children who are often distracted, and diminished concentration and memory.

Neuroscientist and medical director of the Psychiatric Hospital at Germany’s University of Ulm, Manfred Spitzer, points out that multitasking and rapid clicking through websites are contributing to shorter attention spans and impaired learning.

Ideally, the young brain is given a full range of opportunities to function and develop, instead of those limited by what it can do in front of a technological device.

Learn more about Digital Dementia: Digital Dementia: What It Is and 7 Tips to Avoid It

Mental Health Issues

These risks may contribute to developmental issues in adulthood, such as mental illness.

Some of these mental illnesses to be aware of include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Attachment disorder
  • Attention deficit
  • Autism
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Psychosis
  • Problematic child behavior

Various studies have associated these disorders with technology use and our understanding of the complete impact of technology on us and our children is still very limited. (1) 

Physical Harms

Childhood Obesity

Lack of movement has a particularly negative effect on weight. 

While obesity has several contributing factors, the overuse of technology can play a meaningful role.

As the old adage goes, you must burn the same number of calories that you put in in order to maintain a healthy weight. This goal becomes nearly impossible when a child becomes accustomed to sitting for prolonged periods of time in front of some device for entertainment. We can see the results of this negative habit from the amount of obese children present in society today. In fact, children with televisions in their bedrooms have a 30% increased incidence of obesity.

Even more revealing, the rate of childhood obesity has tripled since 1970, and according to the CDC, 1 out of every 5 children age 6-19 are obese. Childhood obesity has often been linked to adult diabetes.

Generally speaking, obese individuals are at extremely high risk for stroke and heart attack at an earlier than average age, compromising both quality and overall length of life.

The risks to your child’s health and well being from obesity far outweigh the simple pleasures of using their technological devices for prolonged entertainment.

Sleep Deprivation

Sleep is essential for health and development. Did you know that technology devices can negatively impact your children’s sleep, and hamper their performance in school?

Before bedtime, children often watch a movie, do homework on a computer, or talk/text on a cell phone. The radiation and blue light from these devices may be impairing their quality of sleep. 

Learn more about: EMF Sleep Disturbance

According to Boston College, the U.S. has the highest number of sleep-deprived students. Specifically, 73% of 9 and 10 year olds, as well as 80% of 13 and 14 year olds are identified by their teachers as being adversely affected by sleep deprivation. 

Based on the international average, 47% of primary pupils need more sleep. Among the secondary age group, we see a number of 57%.

Digital Dependency

Habits develop from childhood. Supporting healthy habits is an invaluable investment in your children's lifelong health and wellness.

Children's use of technology is inevitable. However, parents and educators should be aware of the latest science so that we may make mindful choices that we won't regret. 

It’s estimated that one in 11 children aged 8-18 years are addicted to technology. This addiction, as reported in studies, results in poorer school performance, even after gender, age, and weekly amount of video game play were taken into account.

Childhood Aggression

Mental illness is a risk factor for children who are regularly exposed to technological devices both in their childhood development and later as an adult.

More immediate mental effects are still seen as well, like increased aggression that results from what they watch or play on their devices. The most popular games for youth these days glorify violent and other explicit behavior involving graphic violence, rape, torture and various forms of criminal activity.

While most children are able to distinguish play from reality, studies have still found media violence to be a public health risk, due to it desensitizing people and increasing aggression. 

EMF Radiation Exposure

In addition, the radiation emitting from them is a reason for concern as well.

The World Health Organization classifies cell phones and other wireless devices as a category 2B risk, which means it is a possible carcinogen.

According to Dr. Anthony Miller from the University of Toronto’s School of Public Health, radio frequency exposure should be reclassified as a 2A, which would mean it is a probable carcinogen, rather than possible.

Results of a recent study were released in February 2018, affirming an increased (albeit small increased) risk of tumor growth in animal studies. The results left many questions yet to be answered.

 

Tips for Parents

Technology use will be one of parents' biggest challenges. Consider working on the tips below as all of us battle our technology dependence and addiction!

  1. Reduce your children's use of technological devices for school and education to just what is absolutely necessary
  2. Eliminate your child's reliance on technological devices for entertainment
  3. Create more opportunities for free play outside and away from technological devices
  4. Implement designated “tech free” spaces and times at home, such as dinner time, in the car, at restaurants, and in the bedroom
  5. Put your own devices away when your children are present

Ultimately, the most important thing you can do as a parent is to always be present for your child, and spend time with engaging alternative activities (like board games, arts and crafts, baking, or other projects). Giving your child the proper attention they need does a great deal in reducing their desires to find satisfaction from other sources, such as their technological devices.

Your Efforts Are Worth It

There are so many things to consider when raising a child. Today’s age of technology, while convenient in many ways, can add more dangers for parents to keep in mind while raising healthy children.

 

We are here to support you while you continue to create a supportive environment for your children to grow and develop into healthy adults.  

Try our 21 Day Digital Detox to learn more about how technology devices affect your health and ways to maintain a healthy relationship with technology.

 


 

(1) Bristol University 2010, Mentzoni RA 2011, Shin 2011

 

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