If you go to a mall, coffee shop, or even a playground nowadays, you’ll notice the youth of America staring down, almost zombie-like, at the glowing screens of tablets and smartphones. Did you know that in tablet-owning households, seven out of 10 parents let their kids play with their tablets? And because of this 90 percent of modern children had a moderate ability to use a tablet. How severe is this problem, and what could be the long-term effects?
Reason #1: It can change the child/parent relationship.
Between the ages of 0 and 2 years, an infant’s brain triples in size. A parent’s voice, touch, and eventually play can help build pathways in their brain that aid them in learning how to bond emotionally with other people.
But for children who spend too much time interacting with a screen, something different happens.
“Their neural pathways change and different ones are created,” says pediatric nurse Denise Daniels. “It affects concentration, self-esteem, in many cases they don’t have as deeply personal relationships.”
Reason #2: It becomes their first "addiction."
“One of the wonderful things with this technology is that there’s always something new you can do — it’s almost infinite,” says Dr. Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry and director of the UCLA Longevity Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior . “For that very reason, it’s very difficult to give up and stop using them.”
Smart phones and tablets allow a kid to get whatever they want at the click of a button. It does not teach them moderation, impulse-control, or how to challenge themselves, which are traits of an addictive personality.
Reason #3: It sparks tantrums.
If someone has an addiction, they will throw a fit if you take what they are obsessed with away from them — at any age.
However, giving a kid a smartphone or tablet to pacify them when they are having a tantrum isn’t a great idea, either.
“If these devices become the predominant method to calm and distract young children, will they be able to develop their own internal mechanisms of self-regulation?” asks Dr. Jenny Radesky.
Reason #4: It prevents them from sleeping.
It’s no secret that curling up with your smartphone, tablet, or e-reader before you go to bed at night makes it more difficult to fall asleep. The light that emits from a screen suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin, and shifts the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
“It seems that use of these devices in the evening before bedtime really has this negative impact on our sleep and on your circadian rhythms,” said Anne-Marie Chang, a neuroscientist.
It is estimated that 60 percent of parents do not supervise their child’s technology usage; 75 percent of children are allowed technology in their bedrooms. Because of this, 75 percent of children aged 9 and 10 years are sleep deprived to the extent that their grades go down, according to Boston College.
Reason #5: It affects their ability to learn.
According to researchers, a smartphone is harmful to a child’s ability to learn because it distracts their attention.
“These devices also may replace the hands-on activities important for the development of sensorimotor and visual-motor skills, which are important for the learning and application of math and science,” adds Jenny Radesky, MD, clinical instructor in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics at Boston University.
Video and online games also limit kids’ budding creativity and imaginations and slow their motor and optical sensory development.
Reason #6: It doesn’t allow them to reflect on their actions.
It’s easy to say something bad about someone behind their back — but it’s certainly not so easy to say it to someone’s face. You can see their hurt facial expression and feel their pain, forcing you to reflect and feel remorse.
But if you say it online, all of that goes out the window. You can’t see things like voice inflection, body language, facial expression, and even feel pheromones (released during face-to-face interaction).
“These are all fundamental to establishing human relationships. And they’re all missing with most forms of modern technology,” says psychologist Jim Taylor. “Kids are spending so much time communicating through technology that they’re not developing basic communication skills that humans have used since forever. Communication is not just about words.”
Reason #7: It increases the likelihood of mental illness.
Because it’s easier to be emotionally detached when online, more people are cyber-bulled. There are also tons of images and forums online that can make a developing child or teen feel uneasy about their growing body.
According to experts, too much time on smartphones or tablets has been a factor in rising rates of child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit disorder, psychosis, and problematic child behavior.
Reason #8: It can lead to obesity.
We are often stationary when we use a device, so if a child is addicted to one, they are not moving while they use it. That means limited physical activity, which increases the likelihood of weight gain.
Children who are allowed a device in their bedrooms have 30 percent increased incidence of obesity, according to one study.
When a child becomes obese, there are a lot other concerns that pop up as well. Thirty percent of children with obesity will develop diabetes, and obese individuals are at higher risk for early stroke and heart attack.
Some experts even believe that 21st century children may be the first generation that will not outlive their parents due to obesity and high use of tech devices.
Reason #9: It makes them aggressive.
Because kids can’t learn empathy when overusing devices, they are much more comfortable being mean online, and being cyber-bullied almost feels normal to a lot of kids.
There is also a huge variety of violent video games that might desensitize kids towards violence.
This mainstreaming of aggression prompts kids to think that violent behavior is simply a normal way to deal with and solve problems.
Reason #10: It encourages social anxiety.
Learning social skills is imperative to a child’s overall success. If they are nervous interacting with other people, it may hamper their ability to be the best that they can be.
“Technology should make communication easier when it’s appropriate,” Dr. Kate Roberts, a Boston-based school psychologist says. “But when we have access (to more direct forms of communication), we don’t use it. Part of it is just that it’s human nature to avoid. It’s easier.”
Although a child may be resistant, it’s good to challenge them. Have them put down the phone and interact with their family and other kids their age so that they can recognize facial expressions and body language, learn empathy, and feel more at ease around people when they are adults.
“Kids need that face-to-face time,” Denise Daniels says. “If you abbreviate your emotions with technology, you’re living an abbreviated life.”