By Alicia Brown
As tablet sales increase, toy sales decline. Although plans for the closures are reportedly still in the works, just last week Toys “R” Us announced the possible shutdown of 200 of its stores. While much of this is also involved in the rise of online retailers, with the rise of technology into the spotlight, physical toys also no longer carry the same appeal as their digital counterparts.
You can walk into almost any room and find children all around glued to their parents’ phones, if not their own tablets. The most frightening thing I have witnessed was in a restaurant where a toddler no older than two or three had a tablet nearly two inches away from her eyes, mindlessly playing games, oblivious to the world around her.
Remember, this is coming from a teenager, an infamous millennial, if you will. We are rumored to be so connected to our technology 24 hours a day that we suffer from social awkwardness.
However, my peers and I were born in a time when handheld technology was just starting to creep into our daily lives. I was slowly introduced to flip phones as a kid and I got to see the evolution of the smartphone. In fact, I didn’t own my first smartphone until I was in my freshman year of high school, where basically you’re outcasted if you don’t own one.
Along with getting accustomed to technology perhaps slower than some of my peers, I also had five older siblings to condition me for the the world around me. They taught me how to speak up and advocate for myself without the use of technology. I was lucky to grow up with people who had lived without technology lingering in their every move; however, this new generation of children does not seem to have that luxury.
Today, we have integrated technology into our lives to such an extent that we barely notice when it starts taking over our children’s lives so completely. The claims made against the millennial generation are much more substantial in toddlers and kids today, as they are born into the world of iPhones and iPads.
Childhood is an essential time for people to develop life and communication skills. However, the constant presence of technology in today’s kids’ daily lives has stunted their emotional and social development.
According to researchers, using a smartphone or tablet to pacify children may impede their ability to learn self-regulation. In The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers at The Boston University School of Medicine reviewed different types of interactive media and raised important questions regarding their effectiveness as educational tools. The researchers mention that the adverse effects of video and television on toddlers are well understood. Though our understanding of the impact of mobile devices on the pre-school brain has been outpaced by how much children are already using them.
According to a report from Common Sense Media, a group that studies the safe use of media for kids, 95% of families with children under the age of eight now have a smartphone, up from 63% in 2013 and 41% in 2011. Also, 78% of families have a tablet, up from 40% in 2013 and 8% just six years ago, in 2011. Indeed, 40% of children now have their own tablet devices, up from 7% four years ago and less than 1% in 2011.
These statistics highlight the exponential growth of the availability of smartphones and tablets for children.
“If these devices become the predominant method to calm and distract young children, will they be able to develop their own internal mechanisms of self-regulation?” scientists at Boston University asked.
How will children learn to calm themselves down or consider the consequences if we constantly shove screens in their faces when they feel natural emotions?
Handheld devices have popped into our lives so quickly that it is hard to notice the long term effects they may hold. Though the advancement of technology in general is and has been beneficial, we still do not know the consequences of so much screen time for kids. The dopamine responses they receive from these games and applications are instantaneous and constant. It’s great to see young kids happy but technology is taking away from their social skills, which can then affect their mental health later in life.
Jenny Radesky, clinical instructor in developmental-behavioural pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, published her team’s findings. She urged parents to increase “direct human to human interaction” with their kids.
Researchers pointed out that there has not been sufficient investigation into whether interactive applications on mobile devices produce a similar result to the findings that children under 30 months cannot learn as well from television and videos as they can from human interaction.
Radesky also questioned whether the use of smartphones and tablets could interfere with kids’ ability to develop empathy, problem-solving skills, and elements of social interaction that are typically learned through unstructured play and communication with their peers.
Though the use of technology with children can be beneficial with interactive educational electronic applications, there is no denying that when these children cling onto their tablets and smartphones it takes away from their social abilities. We cannot let the new generation of young kids fully submerge into the internet. We, as their guardians and mentors, must wean them off their devices. There is not enough evidence to know the drastic effects of being glued to such devices at a young age. Just as we see a lot of pushback against social media in young teens, the dangers of online dating, and much more, we must bring attention to the kids of our future and take action, before it’s too late.