It seems in today’s world children are born ‘digital’. From young toddlers to teens, children appear to have a knack of being able to navigate the world of technology, using a range of gadgets for enjoyment, social connection, education, communication and convenience. Technology is the vehicle through which children are taken on missions, through fantastical virtual landscapes, into characters and to their friends and provides children with much reward and enjoyment. Classrooms are now filled with technology from computers to interactive whiteboards and families are now inviting a range of technologies into their homes.
Along with the multitude of benefits technology brings, there has been widening concern over the time children spend with technology and the type of interactions children are having through technology.
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The Australian Communications and Media Authority reported that in 2007, children were spending on average close to five hours a day with technology, a figure which has likely increased with the proliferation of media-enabled smart phones and other electronic devices (ACAMA). In fact, in April 2012, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that nearly a third of all 5-14 year old children had their own mobile phones. With the increased sedentary time children are spending with technology and reduced time in outdoor play, links are being drawn between overuse of technology and a delay in children’s achievement of sensory and motor milestones (Rowan, 2010) and reduced academic performance (Gentile, 2012). Certainly, parents have been commenting on the struggles they have in steering their children outdoors for playtime and the friction caused when children are asked to leave technology for homework time.
The types of interactions children are having with technology is also of concern. Australian research mirrors that of the United States, in which significant increases in the popularity of electronic gaming, particularly among boys, has been observed (ACAMA). Exposure to violent content during gaming has been correlated with aggression and desensitization to violence (Gentile, 2012), which is of particular concern, given the evidence that gaming can be very addictive (ABC, 2012). There appears to be a great interest among children in combat-focused games, which is starting to filter into playground play with their peers.
How can I tell if my child is addicted to technology?
The Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing Guidelines suggest that children younger than 2 years should not spend any time watching TV or using other electronic media such as DVD’s, electronic games or computers. Children between the ages of 2-5 years should be limited to less than one hour a day on these activities and children 5 years and older should be limited to 2 hours or less on these activities
Some key signs that may indicate that your child is spending too much time with technology are:
- your child may be spending large amounts of time consumed and preoccupied with technology, which may impact on his/her time to complete other daily tasks.
- your child may withdraw from previously enjoyed activities such as playing with their siblings and playing outside.
- your child may withdraw from family and friends
- your child may be saying things like “I’m bored” or “lost” without technology.
- your child may be becoming very tired and irritable as a consequence of staying up late or waking through the night or early morning to use technology.
- your child may request or demand technology during mealtimes.
- your child may be spending time surfing the internet with a lack of purpose
- your child may become angry or distressed when limits to technology use are attempted.
- your child’s technology use may be impacting negatively on their grades and school work.
- your child may be reporting an increased preference with socialising online.
- your child may engage in unsafe technology use, for example, making friends with strangers.
Problems and suggested strategies for with technology
Research suggests that even 2 hours spent a day on non-homework use of technology can negatively impact on children’s overall development (King et al., 2012). Some common problems are:
A) Falling behind on social, emotional and physical milestones:
Children need to be active, have their senses stimulated and have opportunities for social connection to develop both physically and psychologically. Children who are spending more and more time on technology, for example, have been observed to be failing to meet their motor milestones (King et al., 2012). A recent study, including Australian children, demonstrated that more children between the ages of 2-5 years could play games on a computer than complete age appropriate tasks such as tie their shoelaces and ride their bike (SMH).
Some helpful tips would be to:
- Set a good example. Set your own limits and demonstrate this to your child. For example, a family rule may be no phones or technology at the dinner table for any family member.
- Skill up your child. Help your child develop coping skills for managing technology and non-technology time. For example:
- Explore their talents and interests and foster these
- Help your child develop problem solving skills and practice using these, particularly in times when your child is feeling at a loose end without technology
- Develop your child’s physical capabilities, such as helping them with their fine and gross motor skills.
- Develop your child’s communication skills, demonstrate conversation, friendship, conflict-resolution skills and practice these and listen to your child when they are communicating with you
- Be proactive in helping your child develop friendships through out of school activities, play dates and developing their interests
- Develop some new family traditions. Have times when the family disconnects with technology and reconnects as a family unit. Involve your children in brainstorming activities they might like to do as a family that don’t involve technology and make a point of doing them regularly.
- Challenge your own thoughts. Many of our own thoughts and perceptions can get in the way of helping our children limit their technology use. For example, believing the outside play is unsafe or that technology is good to help your child be quiet, can limit your ability to maintain healthy boundaries for your child’s technology use.
- Schedule some downtime time. Make sure your child has some scheduled time in their week to be unscheduled, unstructured and free from technology, homework and planned activities. Help your child play in the garden, at the park or the beach, for example, without the distractions of technology. Invite your child’s friends along to foster friendships and social skills. Interact with your child and demonstrate how to make your own fun and play in a free and unstructured way.
b) Experiencing high stress levels and exposure to violence
Children who overuse technology appear to experience physiological changes which mimic those seen in high stress states, such as high heart rates, fast paced breathing and hyperacute hearing and vision (Rowan, 2010). Additionally, playing violent virtual games has been linked to increased aggression and reduced empathy-skills among children and suggests these games may well desensitise children to violence (Rowan, 2010).
Some helpful tips would be to:
- Set some relaxation time. Explore the things your child finds relaxing that do not involve technology and make time to regularly engage in these activities.
- Be selective. Determine what is appropriate and not appropriate for your child to play and keep the boundaries clear. If your child has played a game that is violent, talk through it with your child, discussing things like what is real and fantasy and how your child might view the game.
c) Falling behind at school
The overuse of technology has been found to impact negatively on children’s academic performance (Farber et al., 2012; Gentile, 2012). Children typically find it difficult to self-regulate their technology use, which can mean that daily tasks such as homework and reading are not completed or not given the time needed.
Some helpful tips would be to:
- Set clear limits and boundaries. Negotiate with your child on how much time they can spend with technology daily and stick to it. Help your child choose how to use technology and how to plan for non-technology time. Avoid using technology as a reward and involve older children in these negotiations.
- Monitor computer-based tasks. Be aware of the school-based tasks your child is completing on the computer and help them remain on task and focused.
- Set time to read and help your child with their homework. Talk to the school if there are difficulties completing the homework and take an interest in school-based tasks at home.
d) Other psychosocial difficulties such as sleep difficulties.
The overuse of technology has also been associated with sleep difficulties and increased anxiety, depression and isolation in some cases, particularly when children are exposed to personal safety risks such as cyberbullying and sexting (Farber et al., 2012).
Some helpful tips would be to:
- Educate yourself. Know what technology your child is using and what they are doing on that technology. Be your child’s friend on facebook, look at their Tumblr account, know the websites and games they seek. Most devices have parental controls and keep technology use in public areas in your house.
- Educate your child. Help your child know how to safely navigate technology, know the risks and how to identify them and know the supports they can seek if things go awry. Have some simple rules such as no sending of videos or photos without permission, no ‘friending’ people that you haven’t met.
- Establish clear bedtime routines and limits. Shift technology use to daylight hours and out of the bedroom. Research suggests that children who use a computer before bedtime take longer to fall asleep, have a poorer quality sleep and are more distractible and fatigued during the day (King et al., 2012). Have a device charging station in a public space in your house for all family members to plug into during the night.
- Seek help. Seek professional help if you identify a personal safety risk involving your child or if your child is experiencing symptoms consistent with a mental health disorder.
King, D., Delfabbro, P., Griffiths, M. & Gradisar, M. (2012). Cognitive-Behavioural Approaches to Outpatient Treatment of Internet Addiction in Children and Adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68 (11), 1185-1195.
Farber, B., Shafron, G., Hamadani, J., Wald, E. & Nitzburg, G. (2012). Children, Technology, Problems, and Preferences. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68 (11), 1225-1229.
Rowan, C. (2010). Unplug-Don’t Drug: A Critical Look at the Influence of Technology on Child Behaviour With an Alternative Way of Responding Other Than Evaluation and Drugging. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 12 (1), 60-68.
Australian Bureau of Statistics: http://www.abs.gov.au
Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing- http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines#rec_0_5
Australian Communications and Media Authority (June 2010): Trends in media use by children and young people. Insights from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Generation M2 2009 (USA), and results from the ACMA’s Media and communications in Australian families 2007
Gentile, D. (2012) The Effects of Video Games on Children: What Parents Need to Know. Paediatrics for Parents. http://www.pedsforparents.com/articles/2791.shtml
References not Quoted:
Gallagher, B. (2005). New Technology: Helping or Harming Children? Child Abuse Review, 14, 367-373.
4. Stevenson, O. (2011). From public policy to family practices: researching the everyday realities of families’ technology use at home. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27, 336-346.