By, Susan Botts Rose, Ed.S., Learning Specialist at Grandview Preparatory School
A friend and colleague recently told me something startling about her daughter, who hasn’t even reached her first birthday yet. “My baby already knows how to swipe my iPhone!” The announcement hit a nerve with me and before I knew it, I had loudly blurted out to her, “Don’t let her!” I know this devoted, well meaning mother would never intentionally do anything detrimental to her child. She simply expressed that she was trying to figure out what limits, if any, she should place on her baby regarding screen time. We, as adults, are surrounded by our devices 24/7 and kids naturally want to imitate their parents.
Is this kind of imitation in the best interest of our kids?
Understandably, devices as sophisticated as the ones we have now are easily able to keep a child’s attention. They also save parents from many of the timeless challenges inherent in child rearing–challenges like crying, fussiness and boredom. Seems like a good thing, right? Or at least, a very convenient thing.
But, what are we giving up in the interest of convenience?
When my parents took my sisters and me to a restaurant, they didn’t have electronic devices to entertain us…and that was a good thing. While we waited for our meals, we had a chance to practice the art of conversation outside the distractions of home. We didn’t realize at the time that we were also practicing patience, table manners, self-regulation, exploration of new environments, and empathy for the other diners around us. These days, I often see children disassociated from their families at restaurants because they are immersed in the world of smartphones or tablets. And I wonder; how will these kids develop important social skills? Research shows children need to practice these essential skills in order to develop them. One study out of UCLA shows that excess screen time can even affect a child’s ability to accurately read emotions in others.
When screen time becomes overkill…
Recently, I was on a crowded trolley taking a short trip across Miami. There was a young father in front of me holding his toddler. He had his iPhone propped up so the little boy could watch cartoons. When the toddler pointed to something he saw outside the window and tried to get his dad’s attention, the father instead repositioned the iPhone and turned the boy’s head to the screen. Without realizing it, this parent missed out on a valuable language learning opportunity.
Language and communication are developed when a child and caregiver share a point of reference and place a label on it. A lot of valuable and foundational language development happens when a parent and child do something simple together like looking out a trolley window and talking about what they see. A recent article in Psychology Today addresses an even more troubling finding, reporting how early and prolonged exposure to screens during the critical developmental language/learning periods of childhood can permanently alter a child’s brain development.
The beauty of boredom…
Another reason parents often allow their children time on digital devices is because it fends off boredom. But, are we looking at boredom all wrong? During brief and prolonged periods of boredom and daydreaming, creative ideas are born. We should be rejoicing when our kids say they are bored and then leave them to figure out what to do next.
As discussed in an article by Jonah Lehrer in The New Yorker, scientific studies are now proving the benefits of unstructured thinking and creativity, problem solving and an overall healthy brain. So many young people in today’s world are missing out on these amazing possibilities because their brains are always so full of stimulation from the internet, they don’t have a chance to daydream. Even at Grandview, known for being a high tech school, we understand the importance of balance. While we strive to guide our students in using technology as a learning tool, we also strive to offer experiences where technology is not necessary. One example of this is the mindfulness experience Ms. DeStefano, Director of Character Development, is launching in our Lower School this spring.
Is technology “bad,” then?
Digital devices and the world of the internet have changed the way we all learn. It has opened doors to extreme possibilities never before dreamed of. With these unprecedented possibilities come a huge responsibility on the part of parents and educators. The American Academy of Pediatrics has some excellent guidelines but it is ultimately our job to limit access (our own and our childrens’) to screens/technology, and to use our imaginations to guide our youth to be the creative, intelligent, well balanced leaders they are meant to be.