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The Impact of Technology on the Developing Child
Reminiscing about the good old days when we were growing up is a trip down memory lane worth taking when trying to understand the issues facing today’s kids. Just 20 years ago, children used to play outside all day, riding bikes, playing sports and building forts. Masters of imaginative play, children of the past created their own form of play that did not require expensive equipment or parental supervision. Children of the past moved…a lot, and their sensory world was nature based and simple. In the past, family time was often spent doing chores, and children had expectations to meet every day. The dining room table was a central place where families gathered to eat and talk about their day, and after dinner became the center for baking, crafts and homework.
Today’s families are different. The impact of technology on the 21st century family is breaking its very foundation, and causing a disintegration of core values that long ago held families together. Juggling work, home and community lives, parents now rely heavily on communication, information and transportation technology to make their lives faster and more efficient. Entertainment technology (TV, Internet, video games, iPods) has advanced so rapidly that families have barely noticed the significant impact and changes to their family structure and lifestyles. A Kaiser Foundation study (2010) showed that elementary age children use an average of 8 hours a day of entertainment technology, 75% of these children have televisions in their bedrooms, and 50% of North American homes have the television on all day. Add e-mails, cell phones, Internet surfing, and chat lines, and we begin to see the pervasive aspects of technology on our home lives and family environment. Gone is the dining room table conversation, replaced by the “big screen” and take. Children now rely on technology for the majority of their play, severely limiting challenges to their creativity and imaginations, as well as limiting necessary challenges to their bodies to achieve optimal sensory and motor development. Sedentary bodies bombarded with chaotic sensory stimulation, result in delays in achieving child developmental milestones, with a subsequent impact on basic foundational skills for achieving literacy. Hard-wired for high speed, today’s youth enter school struggling with self-regulation and attention skills necessary for learning, eventually becoming significant behavior management problems for teachers in the classroom.
So what is the impact of technology on the developing child? Children’s developing sensory and motor systems have not biologically evolved to accommodate this sedentary, yet frantic and chaotic nature of today’s technology. The impact of rapidly advancing technology on the developing child has seen an increase in physical, psychological and behavioral disorders that the health and education systems are just beginning to detect, let alone understand. Childhood obesity and diabetes are now national epidemics in Canada and the United States. Diagnoses of ADHD, autism, coordination disorder, sensory processing, anxiety, depression and sleep disorders can be causally linked to technology overuse, and are increasing at an alarming rate. An urgent closer look at the critical factors for meeting developmental milestones, and the subsequent impact of technology on those factors, would help parents, teachers, and health professionals better understand the complexities of this issue, and help create effective strategies to reduce technology use. The three critical factors for healthy physical and psychological child development are movement, touch and connection to other people. Movement, touch and connection are forms of essential sensory input that are integral to the eventual development of a child’s motor and attachment systems. When movement, touch and connection are deprived, devastating consequences occur.
Young children require 3-4 hours per day of active rough and tumble to achieve adequate sensory stimulation to their vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile systems for normal development. The critical period for attachment development is 0-7 months, where the infant-parent bond is best facilitated by close contact with the primary parent, and lots of eye contact. These types of sensory inputs ensure normal development of posture, bilateral coordination, optimal arousal states and self-regulation necessary to achieve fundamental skills for eventual school entry. Babies with low tone, toddlers failing to reach motor milestones, and children who are unable to pay attention or achieve basic literacy skills, are frequent visitors to pediatric physical therapy and occupational therapy clinics. The use of safety restraint devices such as baby bucket seats and toddlers carrying luggage and strollers, has further limited movement, touch and connection, as well as television and video game overuse. Many of today’s parents perceive outdoor play to be “unsafe,” further limiting essential developmental components typically achieved in outdoor rough and tumble play. Dr. Ashley Montagu, who has extensively studied the developing tactile sensory system, reports that when babies are deprived of human connection and touch, they do not thrive and many eventually die. Dr. Montagu states that touch-deprived babies develop into toddlers who exhibit excessive agitation and anxiety, and may become depressed from early childhood.
As children become more and more connected to technology, society sees a disconnection from self, others and nature. As toddlers develop and form their identities, they are often unable to distinguish whether they are the “killing machine” seen on television and in video games, or just a shy and lonely toddler in need of a friend. Television and video game addiction is causing an irreversible global epidemic of mental and physical disorders, yet we all find excuses to keep going. Where 100 years ago we had to move to survive, we are now under the assumption that we need technology to survive. The catch is that technology is killing what we love most… connection with other people. The critical period for attachment formation is 0-7 months of age. Attachment or bonding is the formation of a primary bond between the developing infant and parent, and is integral to that developing child’s sense of safety and security. A healthy attachment results in a happy and calm child. Disruption or neglect of primary attachment results in an anxious and agitated child. Family over use of technology significantly affects not only early attachment formation, but also negatively affects children’s psychological and behavioral health.
Further analysis of the impact of technology on the developing child indicates that while the vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile and attachment systems are under stimulated, the visual and auditory sensory systems are in “overload”. This sensory imbalance creates huge problems in overall neurological development, as the anatomy, chemistry and pathways of the brain become permanently altered and damaged. Young children who are exposed to violence through television and video games are in a high state of adrenaline and stress because the body does not know that what they are watching is not real. Children who overuse technology report constant bodily sensations of general “shaking,” increased breathing and heart rate, and a general state of “anxiety.” This can best be described as a persistent hyperactive sensory system, constantly “on alert” for the next onslaught of video game characters. While the long-term effects of this chronic state of stress in the developing child are unknown, we do know that chronic stress in adults results in a weakened immune system and a variety of serious illnesses and disorders. Prolonged visual fixation on a fixed distance, two-dimensional screen severely limits eye development necessary for eventual printing and reading. Consider the difference between visual location on various differently shaped and sized objects in the near and far distance (as eg practiced in outdoor play), as opposed to looking at a fixed distance glowing screen. This rapid intensity, frequency and duration of visual and auditory stimulation results in “hard wiring” of the child’s sensory system for high speed, with subsequent devastating effects on a child’s ability to imagine, attend and focus on academic tasks. Dr. Dimitri Christakis found that every hour of television watched per day between the ages of 0 and 7 equates to a 10% increase in attention problems at age seven.
In 2001 the American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement recommending that children under two years of age not use any technology, yet toddlers from 0 to 2 years old average 2.2 hours of television per day. The Academy also recommended that children older than two limit usage to one hour a day if they have physical, psychological or behavioral problems, and two hours a day maximum if they don’t, however parents of elementary children allow 8 hours each. day France has so far eliminated all “baby television” because of the harmful effects on child development. How can parents continue to live in a world where they know what is wrong with their children, yet do nothing to help them? It seems that today’s families have been drawn into the “Virtual Reality Dream”, where everyone believes that life is something that requires escape. The instant gratification received from continued use of television, video games and internet technology has replaced the desire for human connection.
It is important to come together as parents, teachers and therapists to help society “wake up” and see the devastating effects that technology has not only on our child’s physical, psychological and behavioral health, but also on their ability to learn and support personal and family. relationships While technology is a train that will continually move forward, knowledge of its harmful effects, and action taken to balance the use of technology with exercise and family time, will work to support our children, as well as to save our world. While no one can argue with the benefits of advanced technology in today’s world, connection to these devices may have resulted in a disconnection from what society should be most about, children. Rather than hugging, playing, roughhousing and conversation with children, parents are increasingly resorting to providing their children with more video games, TVs in the car, and the latest iPods and mobile devices, creating a deep and widening chasm between parent and child. . .
Cris Rowan, a pediatric occupational therapist and child development expert developed a concept called “Balanced Technology Management” (BTM) where parents manage a balance between activities that children need for growth and success with technology use. The company of Rowan Zone’in Programs Inc. http://www.zonein.ca has developed a “System of Solutions” to address technology overuse in children through the creation of Zone’in Products, Workshops, Training and Consulting Services.
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