By Lisa Dion, LPC, RPT-S
The world wide web is aptly named; our reliance on technology is indeed worldwide. Most of us communicate on social media, work on computers, and carry cellphones in our back pockets. But as much as technology benefits us, it harms us too. It leaves us preoccupied, it leaves us exposed, and it reminds us that there’s never enough time in any given day (we only have two hands, and we need them for texting!).
Technology influences us whether we’re parents or not. But, for those with kids, does this influence loom larger? Probably.
The reason is that kids and technology go together like peanut butter and jelly. Mario Kart and YouTube? It completes them! Children usually take to technology for obvious reasons. It offers fun, convenience, and entertainment.
But, as noted above, it’s not all good. Technology can make both parenthood and childhood more difficult.
There are many reasons why it does this. Including:
It ups the need to monitor: When most of us were growing up, our parents worried about our access to cable television and certain magazines. Nowadays, access is all around. The internet opens avenues to different kinds of content, both educational and inappropriate. It opens avenues to strangers too. And that means parents must be more proactive in limiting what their children see and with whom they communicate.
It influences attention span: From texts to online banking, from two-day shipping to on-demand movies, we’re a society that has many talents; waiting isn’t one of them! Technology is a large reason for this. Anecdotal reports describe shortened attention spans in people of all ages and science backs this up. A 2015 study found that the average attention span has fallen by four seconds, from twelve seconds (in 2000 (the pre-smartphone era)) to eight seconds (in 2015). Now, the average human has a shorter attention span than a goldfish (and this brings up the possibility that no one is still reading this article!).
It allows for cyber-bullying: Bullying is nothing new (it’s not limited to children, either), yet the online world opens the door to anonymity. Obscurity offers a sense of protection and sets the stage for bullying that is bolder than ever before. From peers to perfect strangers, bullying can come from anywhere and children are especially vulnerable.
It can be exclusionary: As humans, we have an innate desire to be included in things. Technology doesn’t directly exclude us, but it can make people feel excluded, especially teenagers. Seeing pictures and activities posted on social media may allow the feelings of isolation to fester.
It affects development: Too much technology can negatively impact development in the young. When a child is watching a TV program or playing a video game, they tend to block out the world around them. Disengaging every now and then in one thing, but doing it too often can reduce how much children learn from their parents (which compromises everything from social skills to the ability to read emotions). This isn’t to say you need to evict Elmo from the playroom, but it might mean you need to limit exposure. The American Psychological Association offers useful guidelines on how to do this effectively.
There’s no nixing Nintendo, no axing Apple – technology is here to stay. Yet knowing the risks that come with the benefits may be helpful in advocating for moderation. And that will allow technology to be an asset rather than a drawback.
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