I experienced my childhood in the unplugged years of the 80s and 90s. The awesome examples of technology in our house were things like the Hamlin CATV Channel Converter 👇
or the equally awesome Adam computer by Coleco. 👇
Even when I went to university, I was so enthralled with my ultra high-tech electric typewriter with a computer screen. It was a weird, obscure brand but I totally LOVED it.
Nowadays, things are way faster and prettier and efficient. The genius of computers and software have given us the ability to write and create, record music, keep track of our finances, book services, and communicate around the world. Less paper is always good!
But while I extol the virtues of modern technology, I’d be lying if I said it came with no consequences. Especially when it comes to our children today.
Some educational websites and apps have been shown to help kids improve their math and literacy skills. Technology is now a component in most classrooms, including preschools. A study by New York University in 2015, found that apps used in the preschool classrooms may help improve reading skills and help kids get ready for school. Math games have also been shown to help improve math scores.
In my personal experience, there were lots of times when my youngest daughter would come up to me and start talking about things that were out of the scope of her grade 2 education – like flags of Africa, different breeds of jungle cats, building a foundation for a castle, and the chemical composition of a star. A lot of these online games and programs have beautiful visuals and fun ways to educate a child in anything they’re interested in. My older daughter loves watching YouTube for its hair and make-up tutorials, and has found some use for it when she was stuck on a math problem.
I personally LOVE using YouTube and Google just to scour for recipes or for help in doing new projects like canning, or the correct way to cut a pomegranate. 🙄
Social media is heavily used by teens to stay connected with friends and distant family, for the exchange of ideas and schooling and sharing pictures. Some of the other uses of social media are for opportunities, whether job or volunteer, notifications of events, discovery of politics and debate, creation through blogs, podcasts and videos, finding new friends who share common interests, learning a new language by communicating with a non-native speaker, and fostering one’s identity, as well as accessing health information.
While there are numerous other “benefits” of children using technology – such as better hand-eye coordination, and developing skills and talents – honestly, children can also achieve all these not using technology. Yes, the information may be slower to get, as they may need to go to a library and choose a book, do some research, learn to navigate the unplugged world by TALKING to people, but there’s satisfaction in doing things the old-fashioned way. Technology is a great babysitter at times for those busy parents, but it’s NEVER a substitute for a parents’ attention and interaction with the child. They will develop infinitely more with human interaction, and gain emotional rewards, than interacting with their iPhone, tablet or laptop. Playing outside by themselves, or with other children, develops imagination, hand-eye coordination, and enhances social skills as well.
Technology has its place in our society, and is a great little addition to childhood, but it also has its dangers and needs limitations to be put in place.
When I was growing up, the worry was that we spent too much time in front of the TV, especially during the summer when we didn’t have day camps, summer camps, or activities to go to. The thing is, not only do we still have to contend with that in the present day, now we’ve got extra concerns with the advent of hand-held gadgets.
Every parent has a nagging voice in the back of their head, whenever they see that their kid has been on their gadget for the last two hours. And rightly so. Every parent knows that when the sun is out and it’s wonderfully warm, or a chilly, snowy day, that their children should go outside. Why? Because we instinctively know that being outdoors increases physical activity, supports development, improves eyesight, improves social interactions, improves nutrition (if kids garden!), supports creativity and reduces stress – as shown in various studies (check out the references, below).
The health benefits alone are reason enough to encourage your kids off their gadgets, or not get any at all. Mental health is so important for children, and the addiction and anxiety that can come from too much tech use is detrimental to a growing mind. The Center for Disease Control states that the rates of obesity have tripled in the last 30 years, and lack of exercise and good nutrition is one of the reasons for this rise. A healthy lifestyle is one that includes an abundance of time away from gadgets.
One of the biggest issues with the increased and improper use of gadgets is the effect on sleep. There are numerous studies that report the blue light that emits from devices such as smartphones, TVs and tablets, may contribute to the high prevalence of sleep issues. The suppression of melatonin is the big problem here, as well as the shift in our body’s natural clock, also known as the circadian rhythm. Your health is negatively affected when your circadian rhythm shifts, as it dictates function in the body’s organs, as well as controlling our wakefulness. Studies have also shown that tech gadget use during the day stimulates cortisol, aka the “stress” hormone, and this limits your “sleep” hormone, melatonin. So that’s two whammies against sleep. A child needs lots of sleep to grow, to consolidate memories from all that’s been learned that day, to rest and to digest properly. The consequence of poor sleep is a crabby child, who is lethargic, distracted, tired, and unhappy.
Yes, the ugly. Some of the effects of long-term screen time or an addiction to hand-held technology are not pretty. If you look at a child that’s been playing outside versus a child that’s been indoors and online all day, you will see a difference very clearly. The hue of the outdoor child’s skin is brighter or tanned, less dark circles under their eyes. They may get glasses later in life. There’s an excitement in their voice tinged with contentment. They can relax easier. They can stay in one place because they have their imagination to make things more interesting. They can day-dream. They have a straighter posture and their neck and jaws don’t jut out. They can sleep. There seems to be less of a whiney tone to their voice. They interact with people with ease (even the shy ones!). Neck, shoulder and back pain doesn’t exist for a child of nature.
Another issue with these long screen times is the damage it does to the eyes. It may damage the retina, and eye strain from the use of too much device is on the rise. You’ll see children getting glasses at younger ages. There has also been an introduction of children entering school who are not able to cut paper with scissors or hold a pencil due to using too much technology, which results in weak hands.
Posture in children, as it is in adults, is grossly affected by technology use. We know that adults who work in office jobs that involve computers have a pronounced slump in their shoulders, neck strain, and their head protrudes forward resulting in weak abdominal muscles and a standing posture that includes a swayed back. Neck and shoulder pain, and even chronic pain in these areas, are now showing up in children. Tech Neck is real!
I had sent out a survey on Kids and Technology to some volunteers and asked them how they felt about their kids and technology today. I even had a teacher who wanted to jump in with a point of view of a classroom educator. Most of the moms were happy with their child’s development and felt they created a balance between tech and unplugged time. Some have said that their child has a problem with sleeping and some anxiety. But all the parents who did the survey all agreed that their children definitely spend way less time playing with friends and being outside, then they did as a child. I received an interesting response from a teacher about the state of her students with the rise of hand-held gadgets. In her 16 years of teaching, she’s seen a downturn in creativity, manners, attention, concentration and tolerance. She even said that lots of her students don’t know how to write because they can’t hold a pencil, so they use their phones to take pictures instead of writing notes. “Weak Hands” syndrome? None of these students had any visual or auditory disabilities or any kind of issue that would hinder their learning and require them to use technology for assistance. I wish I had more teachers doing the survey to get their input to see if this is a common occurrence. So I decided to just check out some studies very quickly, and some disheartening titles popped up, like “Tech May be to Blame for Decline in Students’ Reading for Pleasure”, “Students Who Use the Most Technology to Learn Also Perform the Worst” and “Mobile Phones in the classroom: A helpful or harmful hindrance?”
I suppose the ugliest thing about children and technology is its effect on their mental/emotional health. Depression is a known side effect of social media addicts. In fact, “Facebook Depression” is a new phenomenon to name the depression that follows when teenagers spend too much time on social media. Teens are most at risk because they are at a time in their lives when acceptance is the most vital part of their world. Trying to stay as cool as that kid on Facebook is exhausting and trying to live your life the way that cool kid does is too hard and overwhelming. The feeling of having to record and announce every moment of their life becomes an addiction as they fish for “likes” and “shares,” as a form of validation. Cyberbullying and online harassment is a very real risk. Sexting has taken the place of those weird phone calls we used to get decades ago and can just hang up on. Sexting involves visuals that can’t be easily forgotten once seen, especially if the receiver is a young child. Finally, the lack of empathy amongst adolescents concludes this list of “ugly.” Children who have lived their lives plugged into their gadgets, don’t develop empathy due to the sensory disassociation and the lack of utilization of the WHOLE brain. Children become disconnected and lack empathy, and so their social skills are negatively affected. (I’m just picturing zombies here! 😨)
So What Do I Do??
Well, technology and hand-held gadgets will not be going away any time soon. In fact, it may only get “worse” (or “better” depending on your stance), with more innovations coming out almost every day! Trying to beat back technology in your home is very exhausting and pretty much useless, especially if you have children/pre-teen/teens in your household. But there are ways you can limit technology’s invasion in your sanctuary, and claim back some of your right to nature, creativity and peace.
There are suggestions from experts that applying screen filters and night mode lighting on your child’s gadgets will limit the blue light exposure. But this doesn’t address the problem of addiction and posture issues. You want to break the addiction, fix the posture, bring back imagination, bring back common civility and courtesy by interacting with humans. One of the ways to do this, and probably the harshest way, is cold turkey. If your kid is addicted, this will not be a fun venture for you. But it is a necessary one. For those children who have other hobbies and interests in life, taking away their iPhones will only annoy them. So here are some tips on how to arm yourself for your personal battle with household tech. 💪
- No mobile gadgets/tech at the dinner table. Parents too. Nothing. Dinner is for eating and chatting.
- No gadgets in bedrooms. No TV. No computers. Absolutely no charging phones or placing phones by your head when sleeping. No looking at gadgets in the dark!
- Don’t be a drill sergeant with the gadget time, it’ll just piss the kids off. But instill some rules – whether it’s a time limit, time of day, after homework only, whatever you think is best
- If they hate going outside, go out with them. Be an example. Even if it’s just sitting on the porch and reading or playing a card game. The fresh air is good, and the eyes will thank you for the change of scenery to sunshine and colours.
- Give them chores that force them outside like walking to the mailbox, raking the leaves or shovelling the snow. Walking the dog is a great one!
- If there’s an activity that the kids absolutely love to do – like soccer, hiking, swimming, anything outdoors – let them do it. A lot.
- At least an hour before bed, shut down gadgets. READ!
- When visiting relatives or going on holidays – don’t bring the gadgets. This is especially tricky with teenagers ☹ Our teen wasn’t allowed to bring her gadget for ages, and boy did we get into some arguments over that! But eventually it got to the point that all her cousins would be on their phones – not talking to each other – and she’d be bored out of her mind just looking at their scalps. It’s hard when it feels like you’re the only one fighting against the tide, and there’s no support. So I get it. However, I’m happy to say that at this point, my teen knows that when we go see Grandma or visit old friends, we don’t bring the phones. My younger daughter still plays the old-fashioned ways when she goes out, and we’ll keep it that way as long as possible.
Personally, I’m dying to host a phone-free party – with a HUGE basket at the front door where visitors must put their phones in to gain entry. You think we’d survive?
Rebecca Ramdeholl is a great wife, a weird Mom to two interesting girls, and a mediocre domestic goddess. She loves steampunk, science fiction, and fantasy, learning how to do things off-grid, and communing with Nature. She’s a Certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant and loves to teach others through writing about how to polish and shine their innards and add extra years and quality to their lives. She directs most of her focus on guiding women 35+ in properly managing their stress, depression, and anxiety, and kicking life in the balls by getting a little bit stronger. She works full-time on her blog and is the author of The Little Book of Ass-Kickers: 5 Ways to Get Your Health Back on Track Naturally, which you can download for free by subscribing to her website, Earthy Fix.
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