Kids and Tech: How Much Is Too Much?

September 9, 2006

As technology creeps into more and more areas of consumers’ everyday lives, the risk of overexposure to gadgets, content, games and high-tech services rises. How much is too much? This first article in a three-part series on the potential dangers of substantial exposure to technology focuses on the risk to infants and children.From Baby Einstein tapes for infants to Reader Rabbit software for two-year-olds to Nintendo consoles given as early as fifth birthdays and beyond, technological advancements designed to stimulate the intellect and entertain the soul are overwhelming many 21st century kids.

Technology access has been linked to improved reading skills, but some believe that too much technology can impose dangers on today’s youth — including vision impairment, technology addiction and sexual solicitation. To be sure, technology opens the doors to a world that includes much more than convenience, knowledge and entertainment.

Pros and Cons

“In the past, we only had to be concerned about too much TV exposure. Now we have video games, computers and cell phones. It is overwhelming for young children and creates patterns of behaviors similar to addiction patterns,” said Mali Mann, M.D., adjunct clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford University’s School of Medicine.“Their brains get used to too much auditory and visual stimulation — and in the absence of these stimulations, they do not know what to do with themselves,” she told TechNewsWorld. “They get anxious, restless, bored and aggressive.”Researchers are conducting numerous studies to measure how much children of all ages use technology and to evaluate its impact. The responses are mixed — and telling.Some reports have condemned the use of computers in schools. Others have endorsed Internet use in the classroom. Whether or not they are exposed to technology in the classroom, kids often have bedrooms that are media centers, according to a Knowledge Networks/SRI study. It reveals that nearly two-thirds of children have a television in their room, while 17 percent have their own computer and 35 percent have a video game system.The use of this technology begins early. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 31 percent of children age three and under are already using computers. Sixteen percent use them several times a week, 21 percent can point and click with a mouse by themselves, and 11 percent can turn on the computer without assistance.What’s more, a third of children — many as young as 11 years old — use blogs and social networking sites at least two or three times a week. Yet two-thirds of parents don’t even know what a blog is, according to a report by NCH Children’s Charities and Tesco Telecoms.The report reveals an alarming gap in knowledge between parents and their children when it comes to technology, breeding concern that children may be at risk of exposure to sexual predation and other dangers.  

Instilling Self-Control

Incessant exposure to “all day TV,” violent video games, instant messaging, and the always accessible cell phone interferes with the development of the psychological traits known to be essential to positive outcomes for children, according to Leah Klungness, Ph.D., psychologist in private practice and co-author of The Complete Single Mother. Self-control is one of these essential psychological traits.“Research findings suggest that the ability to focus attention and delay gratification have both a hereditary and environmental component. Differences among children in their ability to focus attention and exercise control emerge before a child’s first birthday. No one is sure how much of the ability to exercise self control is hereditary or how much is learned,” Klungness told TechNewsWorld.In other words, through experience, children can be taught to exercise self-control. On the other hand, such innate abilities can be “unlearned” by experiences that reduce a youngster’s capacity to exercise self-control. Constant media exposure is an experience that will reduce self-control in children, Klungness argued, because media is all about immediacy.



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