A Generation of Technotots: Do iPads Pose a Risk to Young Children?

ipad children

Over the last 40 years, the advancement of technology has rapidly accelerated. As a result, today our homes are filled with countless gadgets that educate, entertain and, as a whole, make life easier for us.

The majority of the human population has been forced to adapt their lifestyles – both working and personal – to accept and learn how to use the new wave of technological gadgets. However, this is not the case for many of the younger generations, many of which have grown up with computers and smart phones as a central part of everyday life. This poses a problem for parents and educators, who have little information about how a child’s exposure to the digital world will impact on long-term development.

Today, it is common to see young children – and even toddlers – swiping their short and clumsy fingers across an iPad or other interactive device, entranced by the bright moving images that dance across the screen. In fact, children are so used to interacting with images in this fashion, when confronted with a magazine, children have been known to try to use their fingers to zoom in and flick between pages. But how is this influencing our children?

Over the past few years, scientists have researched the effects that interactive screens have on a child’s ability to concentrate on activities outside the digital world. Evidence suggests that video-games can serve as a kind of self-medication for children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). However, in addition to this evidence, many scientists are also beginning to question whether screen-time is a leading cause of the increased diagnosis of ADD and ADHD in children.

In fact, the sedative effects this has on children have proven to be so effective, that children’s hospitals have begun replacing sedative drugs with iPads when preparing a child for surgery.  But how does this sedative-like state impact on a child’s development and well-being?

In an article published by Organic and Healthy, Sue Palmer, a consultant on primary education and author of Toxic Childhood, writes that herself and colleagues have collected “a mass of research showing links between excessive screen-time and obesity, sleep disorders, aggression, poor social skills, depression and academic under-achievement.”

Gary Small, a doctor at UCLA and author of iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, claims “we do know that the brain is highly sensitive to stimuli, like iPads and smartphone screens, and if people spend too much time with one technology, and less time interacting with people like parents at the dinner table, that could hinder the development of certain communication skills.”

Neuroscientist Susan Greenfield says: “We cannot park our children in front of screens and expect them to develop a long attention span.”

In addition to the influence iPads have on a child’s attention, Greenfield also expresses concerns about technology impacting on literacy. “Learning to read helps children learn to put ideas into logical order,” she says. “On the other hand, staring at a screen puts their brains into suspended animation.”

This theory is also supported by Dr Aric Sigman, who has collected mass amounts of research linking a child’s screen-time to ADHD, autism and emotional and behavioural disorders. “Unlike screen images, words don’t move, make noises, sing or dance. Ultimately, screen images render the printed word simply boring at a crucial phase when the child’s mind is developing,” he says.

ipad children
Image: Flickr user, Brad Flickinger. Photo taken by Lexie Flickinger. (CC BY 2.0)

As there is currently no scientific data available to confirm whether technology is truly altering academic achievement, social-skills and mental or physical health with our children, the point of this article is to not take a firm stance against technology. The point of this article is to observe the views and evidence expressed by the researchers and experts, in order to highlight the possible dangers associated with children and excessive screen-time.

In response to the growing role technology and media are playing in the lives of our children, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their recommendations earlier this week. Under the new recommendations, parents are advised to avoid the use of screen media, other than video-chatting, for children younger than 18 months. For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day. For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using digital media. To read the updated list of recommendations in depth, click this link.

Image: Flickr,  Photo taken by Lexie Flickinger. (CC BY 2.0)

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