Kids these days use more technology than ever before. Rather than going outside and engaging in physical activity, it’s becoming increasingly normal for children to be cooped up inside playing games on their iPads or watching TV. While in some ways this is beneficial—they’re organically developing essential tech literacy skills—overexposure to technology at an early age can have detrimental effects in the long run.
A study done at the University of Rhode Island indicates the average 8-18 year old spends almost 11 hours a day exposed to media of some kind. All these hours spent in front of a screen often affect any person’s perception of what’s popular and what traits are desirable. This can alter a child’s sense of identity, especially if they’re not socializing much with other children. In other words, kids are may end up learning more about people through media rather than through real life interactions, effectively molding their identity to fit into these fictional depictions of society.
Another serious concern related to this issue is childhood obesity, which has emerged as a distinct, modern problem with media and electronic entertainment taking the place of physical activity. Online gaming in some ways has addressed this issue where children hang out socially through a different medium. Games like Pokemon Go or Just Dance encourage kids to not only engage in physical activity, but also serve as an incentive for kids to interact with one another. While attempts like these are well-intentioned and definitely a step in the right direction, they are no substitute for the type of physical activity shared between kids of previous generations.
In addition to these two main problems, there are also other concerns like depictions of violence in media, and inappropriate content like pornography being out there, as well.
This brings up a conundrum which many parents and teacher are currently facing: The modern world requires tech literacy, yet tech can so easily become detrimental to a kid’s social and physical development.
Given that this a relatively new phenomenon, how should we handle this problem, when there isn’t any precedent for us to refer to?
Cornelia Brunner, a researcher with 30 years experience in education technology believes the answer is balance. She embraces media’s role in the development of kids and thinks that kids who spend time with it will have an advantage in the workplace as adults. However, she says that kids will only benefit from technology as long as that growth doesn’t come at the cost of other areas of development like teamwork and a sense of identity. She believes that in order to achieve balance at an early age, parents should limit their children’s use of media, ensuring it doesn’t take the place of in-person social and physical activities.
One recommendation is directing kids towards resources that teach them, rather than amuse them. An example of this is Scratch, a new web interface developed specifically for kids by MIT to help them learn programming literacy. Its drag and drop interface helps kids learn how to program intuitively.
By pursuing activities like Scratch kids learn valuable skills and develop time management and a sense of their own abilities. In the end, parents ultimately decide how young children spend their time, and it’s up to them to direct kids towards more productive activities like Scratch or real physical activity and away from useless media.
By Andrew Walls