The widespread use of technology has reached even infants, with ⅓ of children under the age of 1 already having used a tablet or smartphone device. Using these devices at such a young age has been shown to negatively impact areas of development, including self-regulation, the perception of emotion and visual motor skills.
Think of the cranky four-year-old out to dinner, bored and whiney until they get their hands on mom’s cell phone to play games. Using technology to distract kids is almost too easy, they love it! But it’s also too easy for them to get hooked and become dependent on it. Distracting children with technology when they’re young prevents them from learning how to calm themselves down or work through discomfort. It becomes a habit for them to turn to a phone or tablet instead of self-regulating their emotions.
A recent study done by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), found that increased screen time inhibits children’s ability to interpret other people’s emotions. In this study, one group of sixth-graders spent five days at an outdoor education camp without any technology, while the second group attended class as usual in a southern california public school. After just five days, researchers found that the students who had not been using technology were better at reading human emotions than the students who had exposure to technology.
So you’re thinking, smartphones can’t be all bad right? They’re educational! Well yes, for some subjects, sometimes. Research has shown that using technology for educational games can improve the reading skills and vocabulary of school age children but doesn’t do much good for children younger than that. And at any age, they’re not great for improving math and science skills. To apply math and science concepts, we use visual and sensory-motor skills, which develop when kids play with blocks or other hands-on activities, not a flat screen.
As smartphones and tablets become more prevalent than they were in the past, it is important to teach children how to use them appropriately. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children and teens should have no more than one to two hours of screen time per day. Here, they define “screen time” as time spent using entertainment media, such as TVs, computers, smartphones or video games. Additionally, they recommend avoiding any screen time for children under the age of 2, because of the important developments occurring in the brain at that age. Setting screen time limits and household rules can help children learn appropriate limits, but setting an example by limiting your own technology use may be the best way to get children off their smartphones.