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How much technology is too much?


Dear Ms. Davis,

I am a preschool teacher and have become concerned about the amount of technology that our children are being exposed to. I see parents allowing their infants and toddlers to use computers, play with iPhones and some of my students at age three and four already have their own iPads. Is any research being done on this?

Concerned Teacher

Dear Concerned.

The answer to your question is ‘yes’. There is research being conducted on this very topic, although it is relatively new, since some of these devices have only been commonplace in the last five years or so. However, we have had decades of research on TV, video games, etc…. similar ‘two-dimensional’ means of entertaining our children (and ourselves).

The results of these are plentiful and very clear. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends NO TV, movies, video games, etc for children under the age of two years. The reasons are simple – these very young children need to be able to touch, smell, hold, taste and manipulate objects, toys, books, etc in order to learn effectively. …and they need connection and feedback from others. The two-dimensional nature of TV does not provide this.

The AAP recommends only one hour per day of ‘screen time’ for children ages 2-5. Young children are trying to make sense of the world and their place in it….the pre-frontal cortex (the ‘thinking’ part of the brain) is not yet mature, making it difficult for young children to sort out what is true and what is fantasy. They believe whatever they see.

Even wonderful children’s shows like Sesame Street have been proven most effective as a learning tool, if an adult is there with the child, asking questions and providing feedback about what is being seen.

And so…what about the new technology of iPhones, iPads, etc. Who among us has not seen the family out to dinner at a restaurant…parents on their phones, kids playing some kind of game. I recently saw a television ad in which a child under two is being placed in his car seat and is holding his mom’s iPhone, about to send a less than flattering photo of her out to her contact list.

Here’s what the research is beginning to show.

When technology is used as a ‘babysitter’, or to ‘calm’ a child frequently, the result is that children are less likely to develop the intrinsic skills to self-regulate. The more involved children are in the cyber-world, the fewer social skills they are developing.

Studies conducted with children following removal of ‘screen time’, show that their interactions with others improve, their play becomes more creative, and they are more verbal. There is beginning research to suggest that for those very young children (under two years), frequent access to technology is negatively impacting executive function in the brain (the ‘thinking’ part of the brain that allows us to solve problems, understand cause and effect, etc.).

Technology and the cyber world are here to stay, but we owe it to our children to understand the impact, and to develop guidelines around its usage. All children need connection with real people, and learn best in relationship with those around them.


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