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Addressing the Adverse Effect of Mobile Technologies on Children

Introduction and Background

With the advent of cutting edge technology, our social lives have seen a major change in the past few decades. Gone are the days when we used to enjoy the morning tea with the headlines of the newspaper. Thanks to smartphones and tablets, we can have access to worldwide news with the click of a button. And it was just an example of how technology has shaken up things in every field for good.

Technology has not only given a push to manufacturing industries or healthcare but also changed the landscape of education. A smartphone or tablet paired with access to the internet has empowered the students and kids. While it does help in the development of a child it has raised some legitimate concerns over time as well.

Should a toddler or child under the age of 5 use tablets or smartphones every day? If yes then should there be any restrictions? Should the parents intervene in the kind of content their children are indulging in? But to start with, is the concerns around children using smartphones a threat to them?

Some recent studies on this aspect have put forward some alarming statistics. According to these statistics, 63% of kids in the USA spend over two hours a day on mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, computers. This stat looks baffling when you look at the official guidelines that suggest less than one hour of exposure to these devices for kids between the ages of 2 and 5. According to Cohort's study on the effect of screentime of the children, the kids who were exposed to large screentime showed significantly increased behavior problems at five-years. It also says, “Briefly, children who watched more than 2 hours of screen time/day had increased externalizing [e.g., attention and behavior], internalizing [e.g., anxiety and depression], and total behavior problems scores compared to children who watched less than 20 minutes.”

Similarly, a study by van den Heuvel reveals the passive relations between excessive screentime and expressive speech delay. it says, "An increase in 30 minutes per day in mobile media device use was associated with a 2.3 times increased risk of parent-reported expressive speech delay,".

After looking at these results, it is needless to say that addressing the issues that mobile technologies create when it comes to children needs to be addressed. But it's hard to dismiss the fact that kids get several benefits from mobile technologies as well. So how do we ensure a child's growth and development without excessive screen time?

It will not be logical to take the technology away from the kids. However, there are a few things that can be modified including the content the child is indulging in through the smartphones, the screen time, and the context, and social skills.

The parents should keep an eye on the kind of content the kids are spending their time on. Not everything a kid watches lead to its development. Besides that, how interactive the content is? is the kid getting the experience that is equal to if not better than the real-world experience? And finally, the kid must keep the smartphone aside and socialize with its surroundings. We shall discuss the above three aspects and suggest an alternative in each situation.

Comparison and Discussion

A. The kind of content the kids are watching on their smartphones, tablets, or laptops plays a major role in shaping their behavior. For example, a toddler playing with the game "Talking Tom" adds nothing to its behavioral growth. A kid playing a bunch of games all the time might make him a tech-savvy to some extent but it does nothing to interpersonal development. However, it might have some adverse effects on the kids.

Kids playing video games with expletive content might make them aggressive in real life. It also affects their sleeping pattern, Body mass index(BMI), etc. Besides the type of content the kid is taking in, the screen time is also a decisive factor.

For kids under the age limit of 2, less than 1 hr is the recommended screentime. And for kids between the age limit 5-8 this time increases to 2 hrs. However, it's very normal to observe a kid spending close to 4-5hrs with the smart devices. Now, this is a concerning factor.

Reading aloud to a toddler is much more beneficial to its growth when compared to a toddler spending time on mobile devices. This remains the same for a kid under the age of 8. Picture books, puzzles, even several board games are helpful to the overall development of the child. While the picture book helps the kids memorize things and objects faster a board game challenges their ability. Besides that, the real-world experience of playing a board game is more beneficial than playing on a smartphone.

But it would be biased to state that these activities can not be done on a smartphone or tablet. A smartphone can entice the kids with a game that will be fun and beneficial at the same time. However, the screentime of a kid needs to be checked if the parents are to avoid the adverse effects that come with excessive screentime.

B. One thing kids love to do the most is interact. And it's very necessary considering the kid learns most of the things from interactions with others. So irrespective of the medium and the content, the degree of interaction matters a lot more.

For example, let's consider three kids A, B, and C who are going to experience a puppet show. But their medium will be different. A will watch a video of a puppet show on a smartphone. While B will play with an interactive puppet show on a smartphone. And finally, C will be taken to a live puppet show. All three kids will watch the same puppet show but with a different degree with interaction with the show. While A has zero interaction with the show B has some degree of interaction. However, being present at the puppet show, C will have to richest experience among the three kids.

After the three kids are done with watching the show if they are taken to a similar location where the show took place and are asked to identify different objects then C is going to do a better job since it has experienced the live show before. Surprisingly, B who watched the show through an interactive medium is going to perform well. But A will be least impressive. That is why engaging interaction is so crucial for the kids for their behavioral growth.

However, it is difficult to find effective interaction while the kid is watching a video or a 2d image over the smartphone. And that is where the role of parents comes in. It's not about how much the kids are using the gadgets but it is about how are the kids using them. Smartphones can be used to give the child a more interacting and engaging education medium that is often more helpful than a textbook. There should be a balance between Active screen time and passive screen time. Watching TV, watching videos on social media are some of the examples of passive screen time while some of the video games such as Minecraft, some educational websites, and photography are active or creative screen time.

C. Does addiction to mobile technologies harm the social and emotional skills of a child?

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine has raised an important question on using the iPad or smartphones and educational tools. The researchers concluded that using a tablet or smartphone might be detrimental to the child's social-emotional development. Even interactive screen time under the age of 3 can harm the child's development of skill to excel in match and science. Kids' brains develop rapidly the younger they are and at this crucial stage of their development screentime can have an adverse effect. Hence allowing the kids to use an iPad to pacify them might not be a good idea.

Currently, there are not many studies done on how excessive screentime affects children's social skills. However, the cons of excessive screentime when it comes to social skills can not be denied. The more time kids give their attention to an iPad the less time he spends playing and interacting with his friends.

In some ways, mobile devices can improve communication skills by introducing kids to social media and other communication media. However, it is not as good as the face to face communication.

The real-world experience of interactive face-to-face communication develops the interpersonal skills of a child, something that lacks from spending hours watching videos or playing games on an iPad.

Conclusion and Implications

It's needless to say that access to smartphones empowers a kid to learn new skills. A child is more capable of doing web searches, taking quick decisions thanks to the power of mobile technologies. The videogames develop a peripheral vision in the kids. The problem-solving skills have gotten much better since the kids have started using smart devices.

However at what expense? Dr. Jenny Radesky of Boston Medical Center studied the lack of interaction between the parents and the kids and stated:

“They (children) learn a language, they learn about their own emotions, they learn how to regulate them. They learn by watching us how to have a conversation, how to read other people’s facial expressions. And if that’s not happening, children are missing out on important development milestones.”

screentime does not allow a kid to explore the world physically, play, and interact with its friends and family. And the kids learn the most from interactions. So the behavioral consequences of excessive smartphone usage have the parents concerned. Besides that Neurological diseases, physiological addiction, cognition, sleep pattern, and behavioral problems must be considered while evaluating the importance of technologies in a kid's life. So we need to find the perfect balance between screentime and real-world experience in a child's life. We also need to ensure that the kind of content the child is paying attention is helping in his behavioral growth.

As discussed in this paper, the content and the degree of engagement is crucial for a kid while surfing through smartphones or iPad. Devices like LeapFrog and Amazon fire kids edition have been designed to provide better engagement to the kids. Parents should restrict the kids to indulge in technologies that are not designed to develop digital literacy responsibly.

For toddlers or kids under the age of 2, there should be a restriction when it comes to screentime. Parents should take extra caution to ensure that the kid does not end up spending their time on the iPad all the time. Parents need to stop using smartphones to pacify the kid and start using it as a major tool for their behavioral and mental development. It is also advised that kids should be introduced to smartphones after preschool when they are smart enough to use the smartphones for learning new things.

And last but not the least, parents should not allow the kids to live a sedentary lifestyle. It's the playtime with friends and many other real-world interactions that brings huge behavioral growth in a kid.

It's not about restricting the kids to use smartphones or tablets completely. But it's maintaining a balance between the digital world and the real world in a kid's life, which would help us achieve optimum psychological, physical, and behavioral growth for the kid.

References

Reichel, C., 2020. The Health Effects Of Screen Time On Children: A Research Roundup. [online] Journalist's Resource. Available at: <https://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/public-health/screen-time-children-health-research/> [Accessed 2 May 2020].

the Guardian. 2020. Tablets And Smartphones May Affect Social And Emotional Development, Scientists Speculate. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/feb/01/toddler-brains-research-smartphones-damage-social-development> [Accessed 2 May 2020].

Kids?, S., Reader, B., Time, H. and Child, T., 2020. Smartphone And Tablet Screen Time: Good Or Bad For Kids? - Raise Smart Kid. [online] Raise Smart Kid. Available at: <https://www.raisesmartkid.com/all-ages/1-articles/smartphone-and-tablet-screen-time-good-or-bad-for-kids> [Accessed 2 May 2020].

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