Technology and Young Children by Dorothy Marlen from www.dorothymarlen.net as published in issue 64 of The Mother magazine, June/July 2014.
This question is one of those “hot topics” at the moment and there is a huge difference in opinion as to whether we should be concerned or not. For me, who spends many hours on the computer everyday to make a living, I would not have thought there was any argument to be had. I know that too much computer time, especially into the evenings, makes it difficult for me to fall sleep. I know that it causes me to feel brain dead and I notice a general low depressive mood creeping in if I don’t take regular breaks to walk on Mother Earth.
Since having to use the computer a lot for professional networking and writing, I know my memory and my eyesight has deteriorated and that I suffer from various sorts of stiffness. I can see similar symptoms in my 24 year old son who’s livelihood is also computer based. I can also see how seductive, insistent, and wonderfully convenient my mobile phone is. If I can feel these types of effects form technology use, what are the effects on young children who are much more impressionable and sensorily sensitive.
New technology is produced and sold much faster than research on their effects can keep up with, and each generation of this screen based technology is more magical and compelling. Not only do we have computers and smart phones, we now have tablets too. Can we imagine that only a few years ago ipads were not even invented? In just one year ipads have found their way from 20% to 50 % of our homes. (Ofcom 2011).
Professionals, who work teaching young children and healing troubled ones, are beginning to notice disturbing symptoms in children. I worry about the effect of these wonder technologies on my health and my son’s health, and it worries me when I see computers, video games, mobile phones, and tablets used around and by young children.
Cris Rowan a Pediatric Occupational Therapist, Biologist, Speaker, and Author lists 10 reasons why handheld devices should be banned around young children. Handheld devices include: mobile phones, electronic games, and tablets. (Rowan 2014).
The reasons she lists include:
There is the possible hijacking and distortion of brain growth, which is phenomenal in the first three years by overexposure to technology. Causing symptoms ranging from attention deficit, cognitive delays,and increased impulsivity.
Over exposure has been linked to cognitive delays and disruption of the development of memory in a crucial stage of learning in a young child.
Danger of obesity from passivity.
Danger of addiction.
Who would have thought, just a few years ago, that young children would need to be treated for addiction to technology? If you have a toddler or child of any age for that matter who “melts down” if they have not had their technology fix you know what I mean. There is also the issue of sleep disturbance – from overexposure to technology and from the possible effects of wi-fi. Sleep disturbances in babies, infants, and young children are now accepted as fairly normal! Other reasons include: increase in aggressive tenancies and digital dementia. Finally there are the effects of radiation emission particularly on young children who are much more open and vulnerable than adults.
In another article Rowan concludes, “Children now rely on technology for the majority of their play, grossly limiting challenges to their creativity and imaginations, as well as limiting necessary challenges to their bodies to achieve optimal sensory and motor development. Sedentary bodies bombarded with chaotic sensory stimulation are resulting in delays in attaining child developmental milestones, with subsequent negative impact on basic foundation skills for achieving literacy. Hard-wired for high speed, today’s young are entering school struggling with self regulation and attention skills necessary for learning, eventually becoming significant behavior management problems for teachers in the classroom” (Rowan 2013).
Apart from the possible long term effects of letting our young children play freely with what is primarily adult technology, there are also the increasingly observed cases of parents not being “present” to their children because they are also addicted to these wondrous screens. You can read about what children and young adults have to say about the long-term effects when their parents are hooked to their mobile or ipad in a new book by Catherine Steiner-Adair called Big disconnect- Protecting Childhood and Family Relations in the Digital Age. Is it being too dramatic to suggest it may have a similar effect to being in a family with a parent suffering from depression? We know now the long term effects on children from these difficult family situations.
Of course there are strong counter arguments in this debate – the strongest suggesting that these technologies are educational and that young children need to understand technology when they are young.Which ever side of the argument you finally end up on, we owe it to our children to think about the issue of the appropriateness of technology very carefully. When it comes to our young children’s long term mental, physical, social, and spiritual health (it will be the young children now who will need to cope, and hopefully thrive, as adults 30 years from now in conditions we cannot yet imagine), we need to consciously decide what we want in our family life right now.
The American Academy of Pedriatics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics recommend that children under 2 have no exposure to any technology and that from 3-5 years old only up to an hour a day. In the Steiner Waldorf circles, it is recommended that exposure to technology is held off until at least the second phase of childhood (6 1/2 – years old) and then severely limited into young adulthood. This is based on an understanding of the young child which takes into consideration the multi-layered and subtle unfolding of the child’s physical and energetic constitution and their sensitivity to all sensory impressions. (I wonder whether part of our reluctance to really see the dangers to young children’s health is that we assume that young children are like small adults. Steiner Waldorf education convinced me that nothing could be further from the truth).
If we truly confront the issue of technology and young children it won’t be just our children who may have to go “cold turkey” without technology ( it only takes a couple of weeks!) – it will necessarily involve us changing our habitual use of technology around our children too. If you wonder how your children will be amused, if the magical technology is put away, then I recommend Kim John Payne’s book Simplicity Parenting. Here you will find many reasons and ideas to help give your children plenty of time to naturally play and grow, at their own pace, in the real world, while holding off the cyberworld.