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Is Technology Helping or Hindering Child Development?

June 23, 2014

Recently we traveled to Macau and Hong Kong to conduct a conference, and once again noticed that the use of smartphones, tablets and other devices is a global phenomenon!  Young people were constantly checking their messages, children playing games on tablets on the MTR or the Victoria Harbour ferry and babies watching nursery rhymes in supermarket trolleys.  Due to the contemporary relevance and interest in this topic, I have indulged with a longer than usual newsletter!

We more ‘mature’ folk find it difficult to come to grips with the rapid invention and expansion of smartphones, tablets and other electronic devises!  However this generation has grown up with technology and is much more tech savvy than their parents, certainly than their grandparents. It is now estimated that more than 7 million Australians use tablet devices such as iPads in 2012-3, with take up growing rapidly (Australian Communications Media Authority).

Now experts in child development are questioning how long children should spend playing with technological devices and what impact it has on their development.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics states that children and youth use 4-5 times the recommended amount of technology, with serious and often life threatening consequences (Kaiser Foundation 2010, Active Healthy Kids Canada 2012). Handheld devices (cell phones, tablets, electronic games) have dramatically increased the accessibility and usage of technology, especially by very young children (Common Sense Media, 2013).

In a recent article, 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12 (Posted: 03/06/2014), the Society states that infants aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to technology, 3-5 years be restricted to one hour per day, and 6-18 years restricted to 2 hours per day (AAP 2001/13, CPS 2010). They have called on parents, teachers and governments to ban the use of all handheld devices for children under the age of 12 years and cite the following reasons:

 

1. Rapid brain growth
Between 0 and 2 years, infant's brains triple in size, and continue in a state of rapid development to 21 years of age (Christakis 2011). Early brain development is determined by environmental stimuli, or lack thereof. Stimulation to a developing brain caused by overexposure to technologies (cell phones, internet, iPads, TV), has been shown to be associated with executive functioning and attention deficit, cognitive delays, impaired learning, increased impulsivity and decreased ability to self-regulate, e.g. tantrums (Small 2008, Pagini 2010).
 
2. Delayed Development
Technology use restricts movement, which can result in delayed development. One in three children now enters school developmentally delayed, negatively impacting literacy and academic achievement (HELP EDI Maps 2013). Movement enhances attention and learning ability (Ratey 2008). Use of technology under the age of 12 years is detrimental to child development and learning (Rowan 2010).
 
3. Epidemic Obesity
TV and video game use correlates with increased obesity (Tremblay 2005). Children who are allowed a device in their bedrooms have 30% increased incidence of obesity (Feng 2011). One in four Canadian, and one in three U.S. children are obese (Tremblay 2011). 30% of children with obesity will develop diabetes, and obese individuals are at higher risk for early stroke and heart attack, gravely shortening life expectancy (Center for Disease Control and Prevention 2010). Largely due to obesity, 21st century children may be the first generation many of whom will not outlive their parents (Professor Andrew Prentice, BBC News 2002).
 
4. Sleep Deprivation
60% of parents do not supervise their child's technology usage, and 75% of children are allowed technology in their bedrooms (Kaiser Foundation 2010). 75% of children aged 9 and 10 years are sleep deprived to the extent that their grades are detrimentally impacted (Boston College 2012).
 
5. Mental Illness 
Technology overuse is implicated as a causal factor in rising rates of child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit, autism, bipolar disorder, psychosis and problematic child behavior (Bristol University 2010, Mentzoni 2011, Shin 2011,Liberatore 2011, Robinson 2008). One in six Canadian children have a diagnosed mental illness, many of whom are on dangerous psychotropic medication (Waddell 2007).
 
6. Aggression 
Violent media content can cause child aggression (Anderson, 2007). Young children are increasingly exposed to rising incidence of physical and sexual violence in today's media. "Grand Theft Auto V" portrays explicit sex, murder, rape, torture and mutilation, as do many movies and TV shows. The U.S. has categorized media violence as a Public Health Risk due to causal impact on child aggression (Huesmann 2007). Media reports increased use of restraints and seclusion rooms with children who exhibit uncontrolled aggression.
 
7. Digital dementia
High speed media content can contribute to attention deficit, as well as decreased concentration and memory, due to the brain pruning neuronal tracks to the frontal cortex (Christakis 2004, Small 2008). Children who can't pay attention can't learn.
 
8. Addictions

As parents attach more and more to technology, they are detaching from their children. In the absence of parental attachment, detached children can attach to devices, which can result in addiction (Rowan 2010). One in 11 children aged 8-18 years are addicted to technology (Gentile 2009).
 
9. Radiation emission
In May of 2011, the World Health Organization classified cell phones (and other wireless devices) as a category 2B risk (possible carcinogen) due to radiation emission (WHO 2011). James McNamee with Health Canada in October of 2011 issued a cautionary warning stating "Children are more sensitive to a variety of agents than adults as their brains and immune systems are still developing, so you can't say the risk would be equal for a small adult as for a child." (Globe and Mail 2011). In December, 2013 Dr. Anthony Miller from the University of Toronto's School of Public Health recommend that based on new research, radio frequency exposure should be reclassified as a 2A (probable carcinogen), not a 2B (possible carcinogen). American Academy of Pediatrics requested a review of EMF radiation emissions from technology devices, citing three reasons regarding the impact on children (AAP 2013).
 
10. Unsustainable

The ways in which children are raised and educated with technology are no longer sustainable (Rowan 2010). Children are our future, but there is no future for children who overuse technology. A team-based approach is necessary and urgent in order to reduce the use of technology by children. Please reference the below slide shows on www.zonein.ca under "videos" to share with others who are concerned about technology overuse by children. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cris-rowan/10-reasons-why-handheld-devices-should-be-banned_b_4899218.html
 
Further research at the Cohen Children’s Medical Centre in New York found that children under 3 years who used smart phones and tablets for non-education purposes had lower verbal scores than their peers who used them for educational enhancement.  The study also found that some parents are substituting books and toys for smartphones, and that some infants under 12 months are spending more than 30 minutes a day playing on them.


In agreement with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics , the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has called for interactive media use guidelines for the under 2 year’s. While the guidelines currently say young children should not use iPads at all, is this realistic?  I think the genie is out the bottle!
What is the answer to this contemporary issue? Is the rise in children using the new forms of technology prompting new guidelines? Is each family and circumstances different and we should leave it up to individual parents and guardians to set online limits? Or do we need an education campaign to educate parents that these devices may entertain, but may also hinder their child’s development?

I look forward to your comments!

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