Times are changing. “Let’s play!” no longer implies going outside and making mud cakes or using pillows and cushions to avoid touching the floor because its lava. When the kids of today say “let’s play!” they mean “come sit next to me and watch me beat this game on my iPad”. No parents from today grew up with iPads in their hands as children are now doing. So how is technology affecting them? Is it a positive addition to education, a tool? Or is it inciting violence and shorter attention spans?
Some mothers, according to the New York Post, observe a loss of interest in what used to be their children’s favorite activities including but not limited to sports. “Why not let [my son] get a jump on things?” a mother named Susan thought, when she got her 6-year-old an iPad. Only later did she realize that his son was throwing fits when she told him he had had enough of what she thought to be “educational” technology time. Had this young kid, who had not even been on this planet for a decade become an addict? (Kardaras, N. 2016)
With such little time to explore how this technology is affecting children, because of how new this is to history, the only things that have been proven so far are that technology has both valuable and detrimental effects to brain development. For example, according to Psychology Today, the rise of the internet has reinforced our ability to scan words making us read quickly and efficiently. No longer do our brains take the time to focus and use their imagination as they did when books were all we read.
It is complicated however, to explain the benefits and costs that technology is having on children. Whether technology hurts or aids the development of children’s thinking depends on how and with what frequency it’s used. It is in fact, early in the lives of kids that it is easiest to determine how intense or positive or negative their relationship with technology will be for the rest of their lives.
Some areas in which the latest thinking and research has shown that technology has impacted the way kids think, are attention, information overload, decision making, and learning and memory. It is believed, however, that parents can highly influence the impact that technology has over each of these areas of his or her child’s development.
According to the article, How Technology is Changing the Way Children Think and Focus, attention is the gateway to thinking. Without it, memory, creativity, learning, problem solving, etc., can’t happen. Therefore, the ability of kids to focus effectively is crucial to their growth and development. In the past, kids spent more time reading, something that of course involved fewer distractions and more imagination and concentration time. The internet, and tablet games however, don’t allow for that.
The article, also suggests that reading is like scuba diving, where one is absorbed in a “quiet, visually restricted slow paced setting with few distractions”, while the internet is more like jet skiing, where one “is skimming along the surface (…) at a high speed, exposed to a broad vista, surrounded by many distractions, able to focus on one thing”. (Taylor, J. 2012).
Going back to Susan’s story, after some time, she had walked into her son’s room at night while he was “sleeping” to check on him, only to find him “sitting up in his bed staring wide-eyed, his bloodshot eyes looking into the distance as his glowing iPad lay next to him.” (Kardaras, N. 2016). She had to shake her boy to snap him out of the spell. Was this iPad becoming a drug? Susan couldn’t understand how her happy and healthy boy had become so dependent on “harmless” digital games.
Other studies now show that devices such as smartphones, iPads and play stations are a form of “digital drug”. Recent brain imaging research shows that these forms of distraction or “learning” affect the brain’s frontal cortex, which controls the executive operations and impulse controls in the same way that drugs like cocaine do.
Therefore, it is in our hands to decide to what extent we want our children to use technology, and perhaps evaluate the consequences for ourselves.