“We limit how much technology our kids use at home. We have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself; I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.” Steve Jobs (1955-2011), former CEO of Apple Inc.
Alexander Graham Bell sent the first bi-directional transmission through an early model of the telephone in 1876. Philo Taylor Farnsworth created the first successful electronic television in 1927. The first functional modern computer was completed in 1938 by Konrad Zuse. Technology is always changing, and new inventions abound each century. Since the invention of many currently popular electronic devices, the technology industry has expanded to one of the most profitable businesses in the world.
Technology is everywhere—from a hi-definition iPad in the hands of a three-month old infant, to the flat screen social media-integrated television screen in front of an older adult. According to statistics from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children under two should have no screen time, and any individual over two years of age should limit his or her screen time to two hours per day, in total. However, the average amount of time per day consumed by staring at a screen is eight hours for 8-10 year olds, and eleven hours for teenagers, according to AAP. The fact is that young people spend more time on an electronic device than going to school and socializing.
Social media websites such as Facebook and Instagram can be the one to blame for this excessive amount of screen time. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 92% of teenagers (ages 13 to 17) go online daily, with 24% saying that they find themselves going online constantly. 71% of all teens in the study use Facebook, about 50% use Instagram and 40% use Snapchat. 71% report that they use more than one of these social media sites. Part of the reason why teens constantly use social media sites is their easy access on smart phones. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat all have apps that teenagers can effortlessly download onto their smart phones for easy access to the sites. Nearly 75% of teens surveyed have a smart phone or have access to one. More interestingly, nearly one in 10 schoolchildren gets their first smartphone by the time they are five, reports The Guardian.
So what is the impact of all of this, and how and when should parents intervene or curtail screen time? Sandy Kabel, JFCS’ Assistant Director of Clinical Services, administers therapy to children and families, and urges parents to keep track of their child’s social media lives and screen time. She says that the Internet can be dangerous and parents must monitor their child’s activity.
“It is recommended that you monitor your child’s accounts by having access to all the passwords and [become] ‘friends’ [with him or her] on social media sites. Although it may seem intrusive, it is important to remember that kids do not have the capacity for good judgment much of the time. The information they share and receive can cause severe distress for them and can compromise their safety. The best way to truly monitor their activity is to review their phone message logs on each social media app that is on their phone. You don’t have to get involved with any of the drama, but you can intervene if you observe criminal behavior or bullying,” said Kabel.
It’s important to remember that even at school, technology follows children. According to a study by the National Center for Educational Statistics, nearly one hundred percent of teachers surveyed had one or more computers located in the classroom every day, and over half of teachers surveyed reported that children are allowed to bring computers into the classroom. Forty percent of teachers indicated that they or their students “often” used computers in the classroom during instructional time, as opposed to infrequent or occasional use.
Many schools are now requiring each student to have an iPad to aid with instructional time. Kabel thinks that this can be beneficial to learning as long as the iPad does not become a distraction.
“The learning process can be greatly enhanced by technology and interactive devices. [However, teachers must be] limiting screen and device time,” said Kabel. Similarly, when it comes to family time, Kabel sees technology as something that can help enrich, as long as the technology does not replace human interaction.
“When kids become preoccupied with devices, it is important to set up a structure that limits screen time. Demand that they take a break from device and screen time and engage in other activities that will connect them back with themselves and help them feel more centered. Device and screen time can be used as a reward and it can be used to engage kids with homework and learning more, but it can also become a fixation that crowds out other forms of mental stimulation or relaxation… It can be a rich part of family life, but the caution is that it should facilitate, not replace, communication and interaction,” said Kabel.
With technology constantly changing, it is easy for children to want the latest models of iPhones and MacBook computers. However, it is critical that parents and children both work to limit their screen time before it becomes detrimental to their health. If a balance is achieved, the benefits of technology in a child’s life can be great. Technology, much like all else in life, is good when limits are set and moderation is exercised.