I was born in 1994. I got my first game-boy when I was eight and was allowed to play Nintendo 64 when I was 10. I spent most of my time outside. As an only child of a single mom, I was used to playing by myself. I spent hours perched up in trees pretending I was stranded in the wilderness. My neighbor and I would hide in bushes and write down the license plates of cars that passed by so we could create our own detective journals. I’m not Van Gogh, but I do have a decent amount of creativity. I attribute most of that to spending time simply being a kid.
I recently waited on a table with a young child, no older than three. He was screaming his head off, so his mom pulled out a tablet of some sort from her purse. The screaming didn’t stop. She sighed and said, “oh, you want your other one” and proceeded to pull out an iPad. His other one. She gave me a small smile and look that seemed to suggest, ‘you know how kids are’. The truth is, I don’t. If I had behaved like that in public, my mom would have given me one warning to fix my behavior and then taken me to that bathroom for a spanking. For this, I could not be more grateful. My mom expected me to behave, and so I did. The more I screamed, the less I got what I wanted. It probably helped that I grew up in a time when pulling a tablet out of your bag wasn’t an easy way to shut a child up.
At first, I was in disbelief with this lady. The more I looked around though, the more I realized this is everywhere. My cousins had their own iPhone (calling and texts disabled) when they were merely toddlers. Here are some startling statistics concerning kids with technology:
- Common Sense Media recently released a study showing that 38% of children under age two have used smart phones or tablets
- In 2013, kids under 8 spent an average of 15 minutes a day on smart phones or tablets (this doesn’t sound too bad at first, but I was ecstatic to get my first smart phone at age 15)
- 65% of kids under 8 watch TV daily, averaging about 100 minutes per day
- Children ages 8-10 are exposed to an average of 8 hours of media a day
- 1/2 of children from ages 2-4 have played video games
- On average, children spend three hours a day consuming media, with less than 20 minutes of that reading
- 51% of children ages 6-9 use an online social network, of which 58% of their parents don’t know much about the sites
- A Kaiser Study found that on average, elementary school children access 7.5 hours of entertainment technology a day, with 75% of those children having TV’s in their room
These studies provide slightly different findings, but they all show the same thing: children are using a lot of technology.
The use of technology is an uncontrolled, unprecedented social experiment. We will only know the outcomes when it’s too late to change it. As great as it is in helping us perform daily-tasks, maybe it doesn’t need to be so prevalent in children’s lives. There are hundreds and hundreds of apps for kids, yet mental issues such as depression, anxiety, autism, ADHD, learning difficulties, and developmental delays linked to overuse of technology are growing at surprising rates. Reading rates are decreasing every decade, despite evidence that reading provides valuable vocabulary, imagination, focus, and critical thinking skills. Critical thinking skills seem to be decreasing, despite the wealth of knowledge kids are exposed to.
While websites such as Wolfram Alpha-which solves math equations-are incredibly helpful in certain situations, they are limiting the use of critical thinking in youth. It isn’t so important to be able solve an algebra equation as it is to learn how to solve problems you don’t necessarily have the answer to. There won’t be a website to solve politics and to further medicine and science, so young people need to develop thinking skills at a young age.
It’s a difficult subject because technology is so easy. It makes parenting and baby-sitting easier. It can even make learning easier. However, studies have shown that an increasing exposure to technology has rewired the brain and led to lower learning levels. Centuries of evolution hasn’t allowed our brains to accommodate such a fast-growing way of consuming information.
The truth is that technology is a wonderful tool if used properly. It gives us the ability to network with people from all over the world and learn more than previous generations have ever had access to. However, we seem to be struggling to keep it in moderation. Heck, more people in India have access to a mobile phone than a toilet, if that shows how prevalent it is.
Over 9 million Americans ages 6-19 are overweight. Mental disorders are on the rise. Education levels are decreasing. Creativity and thinking are decreasing. Let’s make a change. Next time you go to hand a small child a device, re-think it. Could you take them outside to play? Or bake something, draw something, play a board game of some kind? Technology has the potential to positively revolutionize the education system, but only if we control it. Children need the balance between a traditional and a modern childhood.
EDIT: After posting this, I received a few comments in which I realized this may have come across offensively. Those cousins that had iPhones as toddlers are truly the most intelligent kids I’ve ever met. Allie knew all the dinosaurs, their descriptions, and what they ate, by age four. At age two, she knew nearly all of the 100 government mandated words kindergarteners need to know. I’ve had more philosophical conversations with her than nearly any adult. Troy knew all his colors by age two. I’m talking cyan, magenta, etc. He knew letters at 18 months, phonics at two years and was reading before age 3. These kids are brilliant and polite, and I hope my kids turn out half as well. The moral here is that technology IS a great tool in parenting. Kids are kids and they need distractions. Sadly, we live in a society where it is no longer safe to let your kids play outside unsupervised. The point I was trying to make it that, unfortunately, many kids aren’t getting the positive parenting that my cousins do. Technology needs to be used in addition with love, caring, and attentive parenting, not in place of it.