Children and Technology

Children and Technology

By Juazel de Villiers (née Pieterse), Clinical Psychologist

Technology has become integrated in our daily lives, it has grown to be our means of communication, socialising, planning and working. However, it is important not to become desensitized to the effect technology or ‘screen time’ can have on our family, and especially our children. Screen time refers to watching television, playing computer games or entertainment on a phone, tablet, etc. For many of the questions parents have around technology, the first most important factor to take into account is the family circumstances, each family is unique, and so are their needs and responses to technology. The various limits will be influenced by the personality, characteristics and needs of each child and parent. That being said, there has been a notable increase in research regarding technology and family life, which can be used to guide each family in finding the healthy balance needed.

The biggest consideration in the use of technology is how much is too much. Screen time should be monitored and limited where possible. Recent research has shown that children under the age of two should preferably not have screen time of any nature. Research has further shown that educational baby programmes have not been as beneficial as previously thought, or to a degree that counteracts the negative consequences of screen time for babies and toddlers. Children between two and eight should be limited to one-hour screen time per day, and those older than eight should be limited to a maximum of two hours of screen time per day. These limits should not be viewed as the recommended amount of screen time, but rather a maximum amount of time, less than one-hour screen time is still preferable.

One of the reasons why this is of such importance, is because of the lack of other stimulation that children receive if they spend too much time with technology. Enhancing childhood development has become somewhat of a catch phrase, yet the different areas of development is not always recognised. It is important for children to move, in other words be physically active; movement is not only important for physical development but also for neurological (brain) development.  Children also have a need for personal family interaction, social skills development apart from technology, writing skills development without a keyboard, and so forth. Early childhood is especially important for the very young child to develop social interactions with face-to-face contact. It is also of great importance for them to have extended periods of creative play to develop language, problem solving skills and their imagination. The increased time that children spend on technology not only takes away from other skill development, but it has also been linked to an increase in a wide variety of childhood difficulties, examples include increased weight gain, occurrence of anxiety and difficulties with concentration. This is one of the difficulties or challenges that Skidz Clever Activity Boxes has attempted to address. The boxes and curriculums provide parents not only with information on development, but also with a structured programme as an alternative to screen time which encourages healthy development across a range of areas.

The other important consideration that needs to be made when using technology is whether or not parents should know their children’s passwords. Parents want to be able to demonstrate their trust in their children, and as a result they are often reluctant to invade their child’s privacy by insisting on knowing their children’s passwords. However, it can be of great importance to know the password, as children and adolescents are especially vulnerable to the dangers of technology. Technology has been amazing in creating a world where we are easily connected to one another, where information is ‘at our fingertips’, but this information could easily be about your child. During the childhood and teenage years, the responsibility of the parents is to protect their children, and to teach them right and wrong. The expectation is that the child or teenager is still learning and not yet able to protect themselves from the various challenges and dangers they are exposed to. The same way you would not leave your child alone in a strange home with people you do not know, it is unsafe to leave your child ‘alone’ in the world of technology. By knowing their password, you are able to learn about what environment they are in, it allows the parent to access the information that their child is being exposed to, to know who their child is interacting with, and if their child is safe.

In the same manner, it is important for parents to supervise the use of technology and what their child is accessing or watching during screen time. Parents are advised to always supervise when their children are engaged in screen time and to make us of filters and blockers. Young children often click on the ‘flashing button’ without being able to, or taking time to, read where it could take them, it is for this reason that it is very important to ensure that you as parent take time to familiarise yourself with how the filters and blockers work. Without the proper control and supervision, the benefit parents often cite of technology ‘keeping your child entertained with minimal supervision through screen time’, can also be the biggest danger of screen time.

Background of Juazel de Villiers (née Pieterse), Clinical Psychologist

The Psychology Practice of Juazel Pieterse was started in 2013 by Juazel, a Clinical Psychologist. At the practice we provide psychological intervention for a range of psychological difficulties, including depression, anxiety, stress, adhd, autism, family difficulties, parenting skills and support, change of life difficulties, and so forth. Our focus varies between prevention and treatment as needed. Our passion is to work with individuals, groups and the community to create awareness of psychological difficulties and well-being.

References:

Graber, D (2015) How much ‘Screen time’ is too much? Why that is the wrong questions. Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diana-graber/how-much-screen-time-is-too-much-why-thats-the-wrong-question_b_7285212.html

Powell, A (2015) Keeping an eye screen time. Harvard Gazette. http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2015/09/keeping-an-eye-on-screen-time/

Rideout, Victoria J., Ulla G. Foehr, and Donald F. Roberts. (2010) Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18- Year Olds. Kaiser Family Foundation Study.

Strasburger VC, Jordan, AB, Donnerstein E. (2010) Health Effects of Media on Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics.125(4):756-767. PMID: 20194281

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on January 30, 2016

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