Consequences of the New Digital Childhood
Think back on your childhood, and you probably remember hours spent in active, imaginative, and outdoor play. It’s likely that you rough-housed with friends or neighbors, engaged with nature, and built entire worlds from sheer imagination.
The 21st century childhood is different. A 2010 Kaiser Foundation Study found that the average elementary school aged child spent 7.5 hours daily using entertainment technology, and 75 percent of these children had a television in their bedrooms. Of course, the widespread use of technology is only increasing, and new forms of digital entertainment are introduced regularly.
So how does the new digital childhood impact our kids? Let’s take a look.
Requirements for Healthy Childhood Development
Healthy childhood development requires:
- Human connection
- Exposure to nature
The lack of these four crucial elements has a negative impact on physical, psychological, and behavioral health. It also limits a child’s ability to learn and to sustain positive relationships with others.
Obesity and childhood diabetes are on the rise, along with delays in motor development and coordination. These issues can be causally linked to the overuse of technology.
Young children should spend at least 90 minutes actively playing each day, and they shouldn’t be inactive for more than one hour (with the exception of sleep). Still, many children today spend hours watching TV, playing video games, or using tablets and cell phones.
This can also negatively impact a child’s vision and disturb the child’s sleep. Screens from devices and tablets emit harmful blue light that causes eye strain and headaches. It also suppresses melatonin, which regulates the sleep wake cycle. Ultimately, this may result in difficulty falling asleep or remaining asleep, which causes additional physical and mental problems.
Diagnoses of ADHD, autism, unintelligible speech, learning difficulties, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, and depression are also on the rise, and they’re associated with the overuse of technology.
As children rely on technology for the majority of their play, opportunities for creativity and imagination are limited, along with appropriate sensory development.
While various systems are under-stimulated, the visual and auditory sensory systems are overstimulated, creating a sensory imbalance that leads to problems in a child’s neurological development.
This creates a hypervigilant sensory system, often resulting in chronic stress and a sense of unease. For older children and teens, social media similarly leads to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and poor self-esteem.
Increasingly, kids are entering school struggling with attention and self-regulation skills, leading to classroom management issues for teachers.
A 2016 study linked increased screen time with “poor sleep quality and behavior problems,” and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth found “hours viewed per day at both one and three was associated with attentional problems at age seven.”
Excessive technology use has been linked with risky sexual behaviors, drug use, poor academic performance, and aggression.
Technology offers many benefits to society, and its prevalence will only increase in the future. But when it comes to our children, finding a healthy balance is essential.
Limit your child’s use of technology, and set a good example by cutting back on your own technology use as well. (Your physical and psychological health will benefit too!)
Balance your child’s limited use of technology with an abundance of hugs, active outdoor play, conversation, and connection. Your child may grow up in the digital age, but technology doesn’t have to dominate his or her childhood.