Everywhere we turn today there is another electronic device popping up, and these are not just for adults anymore. There are computers, tablets, games, educational programs and applications all geared toward children.
But this raises the question. How safe is it for growing children to spend time on mobile devices? While there is still more research that needs to be undertaken, there are some concerns that need to be considered.
Younger children are growing and developing at an amazing rate. During the first two years of a child’s life, its brain triples in size. During this time, the child goes from lying around looking out at the world to toddling and trying out their first words. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children two and under not have any exposure to technology. But toddlers aren’t the only ones the AAP recommends limited technology use for. They say 3-5 year olds limit their use to an hour a day and 6-18 year olds only spend two hours a day immersed in technology. Why?
The Problems With Overuse Of Electronics
There are a number of reasons for caution when exploring the excessive technology use of today. More studies need conducted, as much of the current data on technology’s detrimental effects on children has been pulled from TV viewing practices. Where TV viewing is a passive activity, there are many interactive and challenging games and programs for mobile devices today. But some of the same concerns exist.
- Childhood obesity is a huge concern in the United States today and excessive use of mobile devices only contributes to the problem. Children need to be encouraged to move and explore.
- Many children are struggling with their focusing abilities, and frequent mobile device use with flashy, attention-grabbing activities, videos and games does not help.
- Sleep deprivation is already a concern for many school-age children and there is a concern that children stay up later than is healthy to continue playing games or watching videos. While occasional late nights are fine, when it becomes a habit, a child can significantly suffer.
- There are many other concerns to be considered, like radiation emission, mental illness, aggression and even addictions. More studies need to be conducted.
All of these cautions would be enough to encourage parents to seriously evaluate how and when their children use mobile devices. But perhaps the greatest caution is how excessive mobile device use can encourage a disconnect from others. Families once sat and talked, or played games together. When issues arose, problems were dealt with.
But today, when issues appear, children (and adults) distract themselves, create a new reality in the digital world and even explore detrimental experiences and relationships in a very disconnected way. This can significantly impact a child’s ability to develop healthy relationships. Many adults lack self-control, and children struggle with it just as much, if not more so. The problem becomes even more critical when we realize that children are developing. The rest of their life will be shadowed and heavily influenced by how they grow up. Teaching children to engage with the world around them, form relationships with friends and family face to face will have a powerful, lasting effect on them for the rest of their lives.
Finally, the last and serious caution that needs to be raised is the prevalence of pornography available to children. Yes, available to children. Many recovering addicts talk of seeing porn at a young age and being both disgusted and attracted. They continued to explore online and were sucked into porn use before they fully understood what was happening, and far before they could fully understand the dangers involved or make wise decisions. This isn’t rare. The average age a child is exposed to pornography is young, 11 years old.
Solutions To The Problem
While some people have been calling for the banning of mobile devices for all children 12 and under, I tend to believe that the solution is not in a massive ban, but rather in encouraging parents to talk with their children and help them make wise decisions for their age and abilities. Mobile devices have a number of benefits. They are “a safety device to keep in contact with family and friends, a camera for documenting the world, a window to connect with grandparents across miles, an e-reader, an educational tool, a gateway to global information and a source of games and entertainment” says David Kleeman for Huffington Post.
When it comes down to it, the solution is balance, a balance that gradually changes with the age and maturity of each child. I would encourage the following.
- Keep family times, especially dinner times, sacred. As often as you can, try to sit down as a family for a meal. Keep mobile devices away from the table and off if possible. Be an example yourself. Respect your spouse and your child by keeping your mobile device use to a minimum when interacting with your family. Make them a priority. It may seem like a small thing now, but later on, they will remember it and value it.
- Provide other activities that are engaging, challenging and fun. This can be sports, board games, Playdoh, paints, family outings to parks, work days at church or in your community, or even just the space for a child to be creative, indoors or out. The focus is not on entertaining your child but rather on encouraging them to explore and play. Don’t forget, too, that it is perfectly alright for children to participate in family chores.
- Seriously consider putting some kind of block on your home Internet service, keeping Internet capabilities off of your child’s mobile devices (or having some blocking software installed) and allowing only supervised Internet exposure in the home. Talk with your children about how to be responsible online since more than likely they’ll have opportunities for unfiltered Internet at school or at friends’ houses. There are excellent filters out there.
When it comes down to it, there are pros and cons to technology and children are affected just as much as anyone else. As parents, it’s our job to guide how and when our children use mobile devices, not only instituting rules, but helping them develop the ability to make wise choices and maintain healthy habits. This will help them get the most out of their childhood and stand them in good stead for a lifetime!