While there are many fine, educational websites and television programs, allowing a child too much time with electronics may cause problems in the long run. Computers, tablets and smartphones can make life more convenient, but physical health, language acquisition and social skills may suffer if time using electronics isn’t tempered with time in the real world.
Children from the ages of eight to 18 spend an average of seven-and-a-half hours each day interacting with an electronic device — not including the hour-and-a-half children at these ages text or the time they spend talking on the phone, according to a January 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. By interacting with friends, family members and instructors over electronic devices instead of in person, the child may be isolated and fail to develop normal social skills, like conversation abilities and etiquette. The same study pointed out that children may avoid social interaction or extracurricular activities to have more time to spend on the computer or a game console.
The rise of social media sites and mobile devices has led to an online bullying problem among children. “Electronic Bullying Among Middle School Students,” an August 2007 study published by the “Journal of Adolescent Health,” found that 11 percent of children in middle school had experienced online bullying. This can range from leaving mean comments on a social networking site to sending threatening emails or text messages.
Being the victim of a bully can affect a child’s self-esteem, sense of safety and social development. An anonymous bully is especially problematic because even reporting the problem may not lead to a resolution. Stopbullying.gov, an informational website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says that parents should be involved with a child’s online interactions and make it clear that they can review a child’s online communications at anytime.
“If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online,” a January 2010 article in the New York Times, said that 47 percent of the heaviest media users earned grades at a C or below, while only 23 percent of children who used media for less than three hours per day suffered from the same bad grades. The grades may be related to the mental state of the heavy media users, who were more likely to say they were bored, sad or unhappy at school.
The article states that it’s impossible to know whether media use contributes to the bad feelings or whether those who suffer from those feelings turn to media to feel better. Regardless, the amount of time children spend consuming media or Internet sites on mobile devices and computers is time away from studying, healthy interaction and outdoor play.
As early as a February 2004 issue of “Obesity Research,” the study “Targeting Parents Exclusively in the Treatment of Childhood Obesity” was showing that children who spent more time on video games and television were at a higher risk for obesity. Not only are children not moving their body much while interacting with electronics, but they are also more likely to mindlessly consume food without noticing whether they are full. While mixing the electronic use with physical activity can help, the risk of obesity — and resulting physical problems — still rises when a large significant time is spent on electronic devices.
“Brain Development in a Hyper-Tech World” published in August 2008 by the Dana Foundation covers the facts that the brain is still developing its wiring well into your 20s. As a result, brain development can be impacted by electronic use by children. The frontal lobe, which deals with “high-level cognitive skills such as judgment, executive control, and emotional regulation” develops last and, while its developing, can be influenced by its environment.
Since children who use electronics often multitask between activities and devices, for example, electronic use may help some children become more likely to multitask. While multitasking seems like a time saver, the same study indicates that it actually takes more time and the task being accomplished isn’t done as well.
There are other issues, too. As Dr. David Perlmutter points out in his December 2010 Huffington Post article “Brain Development: How Much TV Should Children Watch?,” when children watch television, they aren’t engaging in creative activities; exposure to television also discourages children from reading and increases their desire for material goods. A child’s language acquisition can be stunted by too much time in front of the television. Too much time with passive electronics can also make it more difficult for children to develop social skills and understand the consequences of their actions.