I remember the day we got cable TV about 24 years ago. I waited excitedly at home, imagining channels that would have cartoons day and night!
After the installer left, I turned on the TV, eager to find my cartoons, only to realize that I didn’t know how to navigate the new system and that I would miss even my favorite, “Jem and the Holograms.” And no, there was no 24-hour cartoon channel yet.
Today, it’s a completely different world for our kids. Many of the things that were simply dreams in my generation are nothing out of the ordinary for the digital natives of the new millennium. Cartoons all day? There are at least four channels for that, depending on your cable provider.
And if the TV fails, there are DVDs and YouTube to turn to. And I won’t even get started on the thousands of applications available on the mobile devices flooding the market today.
Before you know it, our kids will be even more advanced than the Jetson’s, if they aren’t already!
But are we right to expose them to all this technology?
I’m no big fan of modern gadgets for my kids, preferring to keep them busy with other things or simply letting them get bored and figure out a way to entertain themselves.
A 2010 study conducted by the Kaiser Foundation in the United States reveals that eight- to 18-year-olds have an average of seven-and-a-half hours screen time (TV/computer/smartphone) a day for personal purposes. It doesn’t include school-required usage for research and work.
I haven’t found a newer version of this survey, but I would assume that the numbers have gone even higher because when that survey was done, Twitter wasn’t yet at the top of its game and Instagram was probably still an idea being hatched somewhere.
The breakdown showed that TV is still the No. 1 time consumer for kids, followed by the computer and video games. Reading and watching movies online are basically tied at fourth place.
The bottom line is, we need to figure out a way to moderate the use of technology. Exactly how much screen time older children and teens should have is hard to say, as many parents have their own opinions on how much is just right or too much.
No screen time
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no screen time at all for children under age two. For older children, AAP recommends no more than one to two hours a day to avoid any negative effects and to encourage other activities.
From age 0 to five, the child’s brain is constantly absorbing everything around it. Many people believe that a child’s brain, a sensitive and highly adaptive organ, becomes more conditioned to constantly expect the same intense and high-level inputs from everything else in life.
Eventually, the child may have difficulty focusing on something that does not have the same level of hyperstimulation.
Moreover, the frenzied and chaotic nature of some video games may leave children in a heightened state of anxiousness and stress, neither of which is healthy for emotional and psychological development.
While it helps to have educational videos and applications these days, we must keep in mind that children learn best from interacting with humans. Physical movement, touch, human connection and exposure to nature are still the critical factors in healthy child development.
Extreme screen time may also interfere with the sleeping patterns of children. Add to this the lack of activity and the picture doesn’t look good.
But it’s no longer a question of whether or not we should expose kids to technology. Just as there are reasons technology should be moderated, there are also reasons it should be explored.
The most obvious of which is survival. There is no subject in school that will not require kids to use a computer to type papers and create advanced presentations. Almost every job requires some computer literacy.
While it is said that technology creates antisocial behavior, it also does a great job in connecting people. It is heaven-sent in watching and guiding children grow even if you’re miles away.
As one grows up, the world can seem so big and confusing but with everything available online, there is nothing you can’t find to help children grow up understanding everything, from race to religion, making the new generation true citizens of the world.
The key to controlling technology, as with anything in life, is moderation and parental guidance. For most families, the TV and computer stay in a common area such as the family hall or living room.
This is the advice of experts to enable parents to monitor and manage the content their children access.
Limiting screen time is also a necessity. Try to set the screen time and help children stick to that by planning exactly what program they will watch so you can turn off the TV when it is over and not be tempted to stay on for the next show.
Unfortunately, this applies to you as well! You can’t expect the kids to leave just because you’ve switched stations and moved on to your own shows. In the study, children were exposed to added TV screen time because they would hang around their parents and watch their shows, too.
Choose the video games or applications you allow your child to use. Check reviews and ask other parents and maybe try them out yourself. You would know best what your child can take and what should be thrown out.
Or better yet, find alternative sources of entertainment that will allow you to spend time together as a family, such as cooking, board games, or get creative and have a water balloon fight!
At the end of the day, it’s not about whether kids should be exposed to technology or not. It’s about making sure that they grow up exposed to technology, but well-rounded and involved enough in a number of other hobbies and activities so that their whole lives don’t revolve solely around screens.