Technology is so ever present in our everyday lives that it’s beginning to make its way into the lives of young children.
New technologies are even making their way into elementary schools and preschools to help children learn. Products like “Baby Einstein” offer apps and ipod cases targeted at children as young as 12 months old.
In older children and teenagers, video game consoles and cellphones are the top desired toys and gifts.
Many parents find it unavoidable to introduce their children to technology, but it’s important to know that all this time spent on screens doesn’t do them any good.
Why Children Shouldn’t Have Handheld Devices
Here are just a few reasons why young children should be kept away from screens.
1. Brain Growth
A child’s brain triples in size within the first few years of life and continues to grow rapidly until the age of 21 (1). Exposure to technology during this time can have irreversible effect on brain development.
Early brain development is determined by environmental stimuli or lack thereof.
Stimulation for a developing brain caused by overexposure to technologies has shown to be associated with executive functioning and attention deficit, cognitive delays, impaired learning, increased impulsivity and decreased ability to self-regulate.
“Whether its mobile phones, game consoles, TVs or laptops, advances in technology mean children are exposed to screens for longer amounts of time than ever before,” Prof Mitch Blair told the Guardian.
“We are becoming increasingly concerned, as are pediatricians in several other countries, as to how this affects rapidly developing brains in children and young people.” (2)
These concerns are so great that the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children age 2 and under should not be exposed to media and technological devices, citing the specific health concerns further down this list (3).
2. Developmental Delay
Children exposed to television and videos have demonstrated language delays in multiple studies (3). Technology can be so overwhelming for young children that they begin to lose interest in the world outside the screen and miss out on important social interactions.
As of 2011, the CDC reported that about 1 in 6 U.S. children are diagnosed with a developmental disability, with a large majority suffering from autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (4). These numbers have increased by 17% since 1997.
3. Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. As it stands, one third of Americans are obese or overweight (5). Obesity increases risk of stroke, heart attack and diabetes (6).
Health specialists fear that the condition may lead to a much shorter lifespan in children and adults alike.
North American teenagers spend nearly eight hours a day in front of a screen outside of school hours (2). This sedentary lifestyle is believed to be linked to high obesity rates in children (7).
4. Sleep Deprivation
Studies suggest that time spent in front of a computer, television or cellphone int the evening can affect sleep quality in children and adults.
This can results in bedtime resistance, difficulty falling asleep, anxiety and nightmares (8). Children who sleep with technological devices in their room also tend to use these devices late into the night, making them even more sleep deprived.
5. Mental Illness
Overuse of technology has been linked to depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit, autism, bipolar disorder, psychosis, and problematic child behavior (9).
Large amounts of time spent in front of a screen may also contribute to a detachment from reality, furthering mental health risks.
Psychology today suggests that depriving children of opportunities to play on their own, away from direct adult supervision, prevents them from learning important skills needed to stay in control of their own lives. (10)
6. Aggressive Tendencies
As the saying goes: monkey see, monkey do. When a young child experiences violence in his household or frequently sees it on a screen, he begins to think that this behaviour is normal.
This can lead to them unconsciously mimicking this type of violent behavior and cause problems at home and in the classroom.
“Those who watch a lot of simulated violence, common in many popular video games, can become immune to it, more inclined to act violently themselves and less likely to behave empathetically,” explained Dimitri A. Christakis of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute (11).
7. Digital Disorder
ADHD is the most common childhood behavioral condition. It has increased in numbers by 50% in the last 10 years alone (12).
Currently, about 1 in 10 high school-age boys are prescribed ADHD medication (13). This is said to coincide with the rise in popularity of mobile devices.
While children do learn to focus on their screens, this focus is not necessarily applied to school work or social interaction; key factors in proper intellectual development.
Dr. Christopher Lucas, associate professor of child psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine explains:
“It’s not sustained attention in the absence of rewards. It’s sustained attention with frequent intermittent rewards.” (14)
8. Real-life Addictions
Some parents rely on technology to keep their kids quiet and controlled. In doing so, they often forgo actually interacting with their child. This can lead to children developing an emotional attachment to technology instead of one with their family (15).
In some children, this can lead them to forgo eating, sleeping or even using the washroom when they’re playing with apps or video games (15).
To respond to growing complaints of digital addiction, Dr Richard Graham, who runs a technology addiction program in the UK has had to open his door to children.
His youngest patient is only 4 years old (16). He says that these children experience the same withdrawal symptoms as alcoholics or heroin addicts when their favorite devices are taken away.
9. Radiation Risks
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified mobile phone use and other radio frequency electromagnetic fields as a possible carcinogen (group 2B) (17).
Children who talk often on the phone or keep their device in their pocket may be exposing their bodies to dangerously high levels of radiation.
One study even found that the brain tissue of children absorbed about two times more microwave radiation (MWR) than that of adults, while other studies have reported that the bone marrow of children absorbs 10 times more MWR than that of adults (18).
10. Eye Strain
Constant exposure to technology can really take a toll on your eyes.
As reported by the Vision Concil, 65% experience symptoms of digital eye strain, such as dry, irritated, eyes, blurred vision, eye fatigue, neck and back pain and headaches (19).
In young children, this kind of strain can lead to permanent vision problems, including myopia, or nearsightedness.
Many health organization suggest that children under the age of 12 should not own handheld devices or have televisions and electronic gaming equipment in their bedroom.
Others warn that teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to spend more than 2 hours per day in front of a screen at home.
While these suggestions may seem impossible to some parents, it may very well be the best course of action for your child’s health.