Today’s children are growing up in a digital world, and many researchers fear that overexposure to technology at an early age may be hindering development. Is it all doom and gloom, or is there a possible upside to being a digital native?
As adults struggle to keep up with the rapid pace of technological evolution, they do so in the company of youngsters who know nothing but a digital world. And while kids today have the clear upper hand in terms of achieving technical fluency, this advantage may be coming at a high cost — many experts believe that growing up in a constantly connected world might actually be detrimental to their physical and psychological development.
The Dangers of a Tech-Driven Childhood
For starters, overexposure to technology has had an undeniably negative impact on children’s’ social interactions, degrading their ability to form deep and lasting emotional bonds.
As screens, texts, Facebook chats, and app games are increasingly favored over real-world communication, the value of human interaction and connection is diminishing. Moreover, according to the BBC, excess time spent playing mobile games or on social media has been linked to a common inability to focus and socialize displayed by young children beginning school today.
Privacy is another major concern — the ubiquity of social media, online chats, and photo-sharing services mean that large amounts of our personal information are right out in the open for all to see. As this story on CNN shows, children will often expose details about their personal lives on various social media platforms without fully understanding the implications or potential danger of doing so.
The over-circulation of online information, while valuable to an extent, has made distinguishing between valid and false information on the internet a pretty difficult thing to do. Children often take what they read online at face value — the difference between being informed and misinformed often comes down to which websites and posts the child has the fortune (or misfortune) of stumbling across.
Moreover, the overwhelming influx of constant information inherent to excessive tech exposure use can be physically problematic. According to the Huffington Post, overloading your visual and auditory systems will result in a sensory imbalance, which in turn can hinder neurological development.
A Silver Lining
Despite the potential dangers, there’s still reason to believe that technology has the ability to positively shape the lives of children. For example, while it’s widely accepted that face-to-face interaction is more valuable than online interaction, research presented by The Atlantic demonstrates that infants and toddlers can distinguish between video calls with family members and broadcasted shows.
What’s clear is that young children possess the cognitive ability to differentiate between forms of technological engagement and to identify human interaction — even when it’s virtual.
There are numerous examples that show how technology can be used as an effective educational and developmental tool. Take smartphones, for example: not only do they open new avenues for diversified instruction and creative exploration, but the mobile platform also makes personalized learning an option for children across the globe, as this article in Forbes demonstrates.
Striking a Balance
Amidst the competing pros and cons of a digital childhood lies a single, irrefutable fact: technology isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. Instead of fighting a losing battle, we should focus on maximizing the benefits, and minimizing the potential hazards.
Parents must strike a balance between technological and organic experiences for their children — this might mean placing limits on screen time or regularly organizing activities that force kids to unplug. What’s more, allotted screen time should be primarily used for productive activities. Sites like Common Sense Media can help parents identify which apps and programs encourage critical thinking and creativity, as opposed to passive observation and minimal engagement.