There is a clear trend towards increased digital technology use in minors. In recent decades everyone has grown attached to their smart device, younger generations in particular. The urges to severely limit children’s screen time and monitor their online activity likely stem from genuine concern. For hundreds of years, it has been in the nature of children to want to play outside, but nowadays, they are more likely to engage with peers online, which makes parents and pediatricians worry.
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It is common knowledge that screen-based media dominates most people’s free time activity these days. Social media has become the primary socialization mechanism: the sum of all human knowledge can be found online, and endless streams of high-value entertainment can be accessed with one tap on a smartphone screen. The benefits of this technology are also obvious: engaging with people from all over the world and learning about things one would not usually have access to is exhilarating, especially for youths.
However, there is also notable physical harm involved in being too reliant on devices. According to Pearson, Biddle, Griffiths, Johnston, and Haycraft (2018), there is a significant connection between screen time and poor dietary behavior for children. Another study shows unhealthy sleep patterns in children and adolescents who engage in screen-based media (Hale & Guan, 2015). It is clear that while the usage of technology is beneficial in some ways, it needs to be done responsibly so as not to damage one’s health.
The damage screen-based media can cause to children does not only include alterations in eating habits and sleep schedules. The screens have been blamed for decreasing children’s outside time, which could negatively influence their development. Playing outside, especially while taking risks, is associated with multiple health benefits (Brussoni et al., 2018). Staying indoors deprives one of these benefits while also exposing them to the risks, as mentioned earlier.
The advent of smart devices changed the way children and adolescents interact with other people and the world, meaning they are more likely to engage with people via text and consume media together rather than seek face-to-face communication (Timsit, 2019). Whether that poses the risk of stunted social and emotional development is not clear.
The situation is not as clear-cut as some parents assume. One could argue that screens are not the only thing to blame for children not wanting to play outside. Brussoni et al. (2018) note how risk-averse parents can seek to limit their children’s freedom to engage in risky play, and excessive formalization, structuring, and doting can discourage children from going outside. The scientific literature on the topic of technology use in childhood is severely lacking, and one would have to cherry-pick in order to make a singular conclusion (Timsit, 2019).
Despite the lack of robust evidence, many articles online are quick to warn about the harm that unsupervised screen time causes and also advertise their commercial products that are supposed to mitigate the risks that they described themselves (Patel, 2017; “The Problem of Children and Technology,” n.d.). The problem of screen time requires more in-depth research before any definite conclusions can be made.
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It is undeniable that using technology irresponsibly can have severe negative consequences. However, there is also a clear benefit to the advent of the Internet for socialization and learning. Younger generations do not like to go outside as much as older generations did in their childhoods, and that can be a problem. That said, blaming it squarely on technology might be misguided, as there could be other explanations.
Brussoni, M., Ishikawa, T., Han, C., Pike, I., Bundy, A., Faulkner, G., & Mâsse, L.C. (2018). Go play outside! Effects of a risk-reframing tool on mothers’ tolerance for, and parenting practices associated with, children’s risky play: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials, 19(1). Web.
Hale, L., & Guan, S. (2015). Screen time and sleep among school-aged children and adolescents: A systematic literature review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 21, 50–58.
Patel, D. (2017). Will technology ruin your children’s development? Web.
Pearson, N., Biddle, S. J. H., Griffiths, P., Johnston, J. P., & Haycraft, E. (2018). Clustering and correlates of screen-time and eating behaviours among young children. BMC Public Health, 18(1). Web.
Timsit, A. (2019). Even experts can’t agree on whether technology is dangerous for kids. Web.