Kids and Gadgets: The Effects of Electronic Media on Developing Brains

Reader Contribution by Aby League
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It’s amazing how a 2-year old can be handed a gadget and just know how to use it, similar to how a kid knows how to use a feeding bottle. Action figures, puzzles and blocks are no longer the standard toys among today’s children. Research by child-education specialists at the Michael Cohen Group revealed that touch screens have taken over all other forms of playful delight for kids. Sixty percent of parents with kids under the age of 12 reported that their child plays on a portable screen often, while 38 percent apparently play very often. It’s interesting to note that 36 percent of these kids have their own device.

On the average, research by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that children are spending seven and a half hours staring at a screen. Compare these results to a global survey of preschool-aged kids by the Nature Conservancy, which showed that preschoolers around the world spend an hour and a half a day (12 hours a week) on a playground or outdoors. It should be no surprise, then, that when a kid turns seven, traditional play is over.

The advantages of traditional play range from physical to mental and emotional. In addition, the disadvantages are equally enormous, and the effects stay with the child as he or she reaches adulthood. So before handing your kid a gadget just to shut him up, learn about the long-term effects modern gadgets can have on a kid’s brain as well as their overall development.

Not Good For the Brain

Even before kids can utter their first words, kids’ brains are tripling in size—a lot of learning happens before the age of five. Researchers at the University of Washington reveal that modern gadgets are not necessary in child development—children can thrive on being talked to and read to. In fact, kids need one-on-one time with their parents, not gadgets. Additionally, overexposure to gadgets has been linked to attention deficit, cognitive delays and impaired learning.

Language Delay for Toddlers

There is no such thing as educational TV for kids under 2 years old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). There are presumptions that screen time can be educational, but the AAP says that toddlers under the age of two do not have the cognitive ability to comprehend such programs. What it actually does is interfere with “talk time” between the parent and the child, which results in delayed language skills. Parents should be reminded of this because, aside from TV, a survey commissioned by Common Sense Media revealed that 38 percent of kids under 2 years old have used gadgets such as a smartphone or tablet even before they could talk or walk.

Less Active Play Equals Delayed Development

Kids under the age of 12 spend more time in front of a screen rather than playing outdoors. This restriction in movement results in delayed development. John Ratey, a doctor at Harvard, explained in his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, that the advantages of playing are not limited to being physically fit and socially comfortable. Even 10 minutes of physical activity changes the way the brain functions. In addition, exercise normally makes people feel better because it “builds and conditions the brain.”

Not Good for Bedtime

The late-night glow of laptops and mobile phones are depriving children a good night sleep. Research at the Kaiser Foundation found that 60 percent of parents don’t supervise their children’s gadget usage, and 75 percent of kids are allowed to use technology in their bedrooms. This results in 75 percent of sleep-deprived children, between the ages of 9 and 10, according to researchers from Boston College.

Not Good for School

Being sleep-deprived doesn’t only affect child development but also their performance in school. Researchers from Boston College found that students from developing countries in Asia scored better in math, science and reading than students from the U.S. and other big world economies whose children are overexposed to technology.

Terrible Child Aggression

A study by the National Institutes of Health found that the increase in use of modern technology can break the old boundaries of family, values, behavior and children’s well-being. Some games available in the internet portray sex, murder, torture and mutilation, which can make kids violent and aggressive. On the other hand, playing outdoors (for example, in a traditional playground) has proven to help children be more sociable and generally calmer.

Kids Suffer Mental Illness

The PEACH project, a study of more than 1,000 children between the ages of 10 and 11, found that children who spend longer than two hours in front of a screen or another entertainment medium are more likely to suffer psychological difficulties. These can include child depression, anxiety, attention deficit and problematic child behavior. On the other hand, children who experience more moderate physical activity fared better in emotional categories and were better able to solve peer problems. This shows that active play makes kids healthier not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.

Gadgets Cause Tantrums

Do you know what an “iPaddy” means? It’s a term coined for kids throwing a tantrum when their electronic devices are taken away from them. A study commissioned by online retailer Pixmania revealed that eight out of 10 parents who have children ages 14 and under said they confiscate gadgets as a form of punishment. Because kids have grown attached to them, kids throw tantrums. If you don’t want to be like these parents, re-assess the extent you allow your kids to regularly use technology before they get too attached to them.

There is no stopping the wave of technology. Parents cannot tell their kids to live without them because they will surely need it as they grow older. However, a parent must be aware of the advantages and disadvantages behind them. When supervised and regulated, gadgets can aid in development at the right age, but too much use of technology (and too early) will only delay a child’s learning abilities and put a strain on his psychological health.

Aby League is a medical practitioner and an Elite Daily writer. She also writes about business and other topics of great interest. She also writes a blog, About Possibilities. Follow her @abyleague and circle her on Google+.

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