Today’s kids are growing up in an IoT-centric world where they’ve had a device in their hands for as long as they can remember. Hand an iPad to a three-year-old, and they’ll quickly figure out how to use it. Not only are today’s devices immediately intuitive to young kids, but the internet is always on. There’s no delay in gratification to connect. Just pick up a device, open YouTube’s app, and start watching videos, all by tapping the screen with your finger.
Our plug-and-play world is the unavoidable result of advancements in computer technology. Processing power continues to increase while the size of devices decreases. Desktop computers have gone from giant towers to portable units like the Mac Mini and similar Windows-based micro desktops.
Smartphones have replaced standard cellphones and provide a computer in anyone’s pocket. Kids as young as 6 ask for iPads for Christmas. While a device in a kid’s hand gives parents a break, it’s an addiction that causes damage in ways they don’t realize.
Too much screen time can cause brain damage
It might sound strange to think staring at a screen can cause brain damage. Brain damage is serious; how could that happen? Aren’t these devices supposed to give kids an educational edge? How can educational games cause brain damage?
According to Dr. Aric Sigman, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, too much screen time impedes a child’s ability to develop focus, concentration, and communication skills. Instead of engaging with people and learning to exchange ideas and information, the child’s experience becomes one-sided. This one-sided approach to life will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
When they become a teenager, they’ll post their opinion on social media and won’t know how to handle criticism, skepticism, or simple conversation involving ideas beyond their view. To them, sharing isn’t an invitation for a conversation. It’s an opportunity to assert their opinion and argue with anyone who doesn’t agree because they never learned how to be wrong. They’ll spend their lives trying to be right, destroying relationships and burning bridges in the process.
When a child spends most of their life interacting with a device, they don’t develop the ability to sense and feel other people’s emotions while communicating – a skill necessary to develop empathy. Words exchanged in text messages and on social media, even with emoticons, are empty. Electronic communication doesn’t allow anyone to feel the other person’s experience. Someone could be ready to commit suicide, text a friend to say “I love you,” and their friend might think it’s just a kind gesture.
Some might say balance is the answer, but what does that actually mean? Two hours of screen time for every two hours of outdoor play? No screen time until homework is done? What happens when school assignments are provided that must be completed online or with school-issued tablets?
Is a balanced digital life even possible today?
Most parents want their kids to live a balanced life, but is that possible anymore? What would a balanced life look like in this age of mass digital consumption?
One blogger from Fresh n’ Lean writes about their struggle to achieve balance, and the realization that balance doesn’t exist – not even in nature. Balance is a paradigm based on belief. In yoga terms, balance is not striking and holding a pose. It’s flowing with the movements affecting your pose. Balance is being able to respond, adjust, and adapt swiftly.
If balance is a state of constant adaptation, helping kids achieve balance in a digital world might mean going easy with a digital detox. Instead of angrily taking away devices as punishment, responding to the situation as you would help a drug addict seems more effective. The idea is to slowly wean them off the addiction, so that by the end of the detox, they have the willpower to choose to put down a device.
Remember that a digital device is a child’s life
Parents with younger kids can restrict the use of devices by designating specific times for their use, but what can be done about teenagers? Teens want to fit in, and that includes having all the electronic devices their friends have, smartphones included. Many teenagers live their entire lives on social media and through text messaging. To a teen, taking away their phone is like removing them from their entire life.
Teens handle being grounded better than having their electronics taken away. In 2013, Ronald Jackson was put through the wringer after taking away his 12-year-old daughter’s iPhone for sending an inappropriate text message. The girl told her mother, Jackson’s ex-partner, and Jackson was quickly arrested and charged with property theft, a Class B misdemeanor. The judge sided with Jackson.
Other kids have experienced far worse. YouTube is filled with countless videos showing angry parents destroying their kids’ electronics. Like this mom who smashed her kid’s laptop when he put off doing the dishes for two hours. Another parent destroyed his son’s video games with a lawn mower to teach him a lesson. Other parents shoot their kids’ video game consoles with a handgun, while most just smash everything to bits with a sledgehammer.
While the reaction of smashing electronics to bits seems a little over the top, it’s a testament to how desperate some parents feel about getting their kids back into the real world.
Schools with upgraded technology are making it harder
Schools have always been notoriously behind with the technology they provide for student use, but that’s changing. Day trips to the school’s computer lab to learn how to type on a real keyboard will soon be a thing of the past. With current computer technology becoming affordable, schools are phasing out computer labs in favor of having students use tablets at their desks. Since kids as young as seven years old (or younger) already have tablets and smartphones, they won’t need much instruction. Instead, “computer time” or, “tablet time” will be used to enhance other areas of learning.
Providing kids with tablets to use in class seems like a good idea. They’re cheap enough now, so why not? The problem is, kids already spend too much time on their personal devices when they’re not at school. Sticking a tablet in their hands at school means they’re spending nearly every waking moment staring at a screen.
Adults – even Millennials who grew up with technology – didn’t grow up like this. Although Millennials did grow up with smartphones, few have been using them since the age of two.
Adults older than the Millennial generation are especially clueless about the harm done by social media. They grew up with one foot in and one foot out of technology. Today’s kids are all in, and they’re paying the price.
Smartphones make schoolyard drama worse
Not long ago, gossip was limited to verbal exchanges, notes, and graffiti in the bathroom. If you wanted to tell someone off, you had to say it to their face. When you say something hurtful to someone in person, you can see the pain in their facial expression. If they hurt, it makes you feel bad.
The anonymity of social media allows for the expression of hateful, hurtful messages that nobody would be brave enough to say to someone’s face. When you type out an email or a social media post, you don’t see the other person’s reaction, making it easy to be mean.
Digital detoxing might be more of a psychological approach
In a world where almost every necessary interaction can take place online from behind a computer screen, the need for personal interaction is slowly phasing out of existence. We can pay bills, buy groceries, and watch movies without leaving our couch. We don’t even have to pick up the phone to talk to another human being. Knowing all of that, an effective digital detox might be more of a psychological approach to how devices are used, rather than abstaining from using them.
Smartphones and tablets are here to stay, and they’re actually quite useful. The key is getting kids to refrain from using their devices in ways that divide them from their peers, and dehumanize others. Instead of only sharing their experiences over social media, kids should learn to share with their friends in person, too. A kid who regularly engages with people in real life has a better chance at developing those important communication skills that get lost in the world of IoT.