The Drawbacks of Too Much Technology – Part 2 of a 3 part series
Now that we know what our children need for optimal brain development, let’s take a look at what happens when they are not able to meet these needs as a result of spending too much time with technology.
Sleep Problems – Reading on a tablet before bedtime can disrupt sleep – light emitted from the screen delays the release of melatonin, the chemical in your brain that helps you relax and controls your sleep cycles. Too much screen time throughout the day in general can make it hard for your child to sleep soundly at night, having a big impact on their mental well-being. Lack of quality sleep increases stress levels and irritability, having an adverse effect on social interactions.
Obesity – Due to the sedentary lifestyle associated with watching TV, social media and playing video games, today’s youth are at an increased risk for obesity. They are not spending enough time being physically active. This restriction in movement can cause delays in physical development as well as unhealthy weights. Television ads can often lead to unhealthy food choices in addition to the fact that children tend to eat more while watching TV.
Behavior – Children need to learn how to deal with other people, but increased screen time prohibits interactions that promote social development. It also raises the risk of attention problems, anxiety and depression. The focus a child can exhibit playing video games or watching TV is not the same form of attention needed to thrive in school and in life. In fact, the hyper-focus seen while playing video games is actually a hallmark sign of hyperactivity. In addition, children often create false personas online and have an easier time making virtual friends than real friends.
Technology has created a disconnect in our families. Disconnect already exists in households with teenagers, but screen time and social media makes it even worse. Adolescents are in a period of their lives where friends are often times more important to them than their parents. It is harder to relate to teenagers today than in previous generations because not only are they ‘speaking a different language’, but technology provides so many distractions from the real world. But if we disconnect with our families we have to ask ourselves, how will our children cope in adulthood without the connections and love you typically get from your family?
Young children are not able to filter fantasy. They don’t understand that what they are watching is not real. Certain video games affect the way the way some children play – no know how to without fighting. If a child’s brain becomes habituated to the pace and extreme alertness needed to respond to and win video games, the child may find the realities of the real-world underwhelming and under-stimulating.
Although video game addiction is not officially classified yet as an addiction, some psychologists and neurologists believe it is truly becoming an addiction and have begun providing treatment. The younger a person starts gaming, the more vulnerable they are to developing a severe addiction. Technology of all sorts is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels, creating a sensation of pleasure. Dopamine is the chemical released in the brain every time a person wins, or experiences success, and is the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in any type of addiction. Technology can quickly overtake a young developing brain to the point where it overshadows other important but slower-growing connections including complexities of thought, emotional signaling and communication.
Richard Louv coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder not to be a medical diagnosis, but rather to serve as a description of the human costs of alienation from the natural world. He claims that the causes for the phenomenon include parental fears, restricted access to natural areas, and of course the ever-present lure of the screen. Human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems. Lack of time in nature is linked to rising rates of depression, ADHD, vitamin D deficiency, and other health conditions. Spending time in nature, which is an antidote for the aforementioned ills, has a wide range of benefits for both physical and mental health. Humans are hard-wired genetically for an affiliation with the natural world and can suffer when they are deprived. When an individual spends time in nature, the brain relaxes, entering a state of contemplation that is restorative and refreshing. Therefore, Louv suggests we ask ourselves, “What could our lives and our children’s lives be like if our days and nights were as immersed in nature as they are in technology?”
So how much screen time should I let my child have? The American Academy of Pediatrics updated their recommendations in October of 2016. Previously, it was recommended that children under 2 should not have any screen time and children over 2 should have no more than two hours a day. Their new guidelines state that children under 18 months old should not be exposed to any screen time with the exception of interactive apps such as Facetime or Skype where they have the opportunity to interact with grandparents or other relatives who live far away.
There is limited evidence from small studies that children between the ages of 15 months and 2 years can learn new words from educational media, if and only if parents are watching with them, repeating and reinforcing what the video says. The same study shows that poorer language skills correlate with early solo viewing of educational videos. Language delays have been associated with children who started watching TV earlier in their life and continue to watch more than recommended. This is a direct result of media replacing the human interactions necessary for developing interpersonal skills.
For children between the ages of two and five, the recommendation has been reduced from two hours to one hour of quality educational programming watched with the parents. The AAP has strong brand preference here – Sesame Workshop and PBS are two trusted makers of evidence-based children’s educational media. Of the hundred thousand ‘education’ branded apps, few have actually been found to satisfy high standards for learning. Parents need to help children understand what they are seeing and apply what they are learning to the world around them.
The potential benefits of technology will change with the type of activity. What kind of technology you expose your child to is just as important a question as how much. Children should be exposed to real characters in real situations as this is associated with improved language in toddlers. The degree of benefit is also related to the age of the children.
In regards to technology in the classroom, after children are able to have free dialogue and write creatively, as well as complete data research, collaborative projects and interpretive inquiry, then technology can enhance and deepen a child’s natural learning tendencies. Otherwise, technology can distract from their natural interactions and active, spontaneous relating will be impeded. To be modern, impressive or luring is NOT a good reason to give technology to young children
When used in ways that are in harmony with a child’s developmental needs, educational technology can deliver the world to the child through the ability to access and exchange info in a global learning community. However, it should never take the place of hands-on real activities, especially for younger children. It should nurture the development of the child and complement, rather than replace, what they are already using. Ask yourself if it offers an alternative approach that exists in no other format.
Next up in this series – “How Do We Help Our Children?”
Carol Martorano, M.Ed., has been working in Montessori for 20 years as both a teacher and administrator. She is the parent of two teenagers who attended Montessori through the elementary years and is currently the Head of School at the Montessori School of Long Grove, in northwest suburban Chicago. She has her Montessori credentials in Elementary I and II, as well as Administration. She earned her Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and sits on the board of the Association of Illinois Montessori Schools.