Living in the digital age means that we are all – including kids - constantly bombarded with more and more technology and interactive media.
Just like adults, kids today have access to a multitude of technology and media outlets including the internet, MP3 players, video games, smartphones, DVDs, and television. And just like adults, kids are using multiple devices at the same time.
According to a 2010 study by the Kasier Family Foundation, “Today, 8-18 year olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into those 7½ hours.”
And a 2011 report from education non-profit organizations Joan Ganz Cooney Center and Sesame Workshop found that about 80% of American children between the ages of 0 and 5 who use the internet do so at least once a week.
KIDS + TECHNOLOGY = PROBLEMS
“Kids are enamored with technology,” says Jason Donati, academic chair of Media Arts & Animation and Web Design & Interactive Media at The New England Institute of Art. “As long as there is a market for this, there will be companies creating newer and more exciting ways to deliver the content.”
But with all of that consumption comes some dangers and problems, says Etian D. Schwarz, child psychiatrist and author of Kids, Parents & Technology: A Guide for Young Families. Among other things, he says that unsupervised and disproportionate access to all of the digital technology outlets creates a diminished imaginative play in children.
“If you put computers unsupervised in the hands of the kids, they suffer,” he says. “The more media families have, the less time they spend together. Unsupervised and excessive media use through these gadgets does not have a whole lot of positive aspects.”
Donati agrees and says that to get the benefits technology can offer, kids should be exposed to it in very limited amounts – about two hours or less per day. This issue is one he says he thinks about often because he has two young children of his own at home.
“While there is no question that the quality of technologically-driven educational options is outstanding and getting better each year, there is clearly a point of diminishing returns,” he adds. “When children are playing, using, and doing traditional mediums and activities (books, coloring, using their imaginations, etc.), they are actively learning. However, when children are watching TV, for instance, they are in passive mode and, in my opinion, are taking in a lot less.”
ADVISING PARENTS ON KIDS AND TECHNOLOGY
Schwarz advises concerned parents like Donati to change their mindset about technology. He says parents must accept that technology is here to stay; it is part of our lives and part of kids’ lives.
“The consumption of media and technology has to be looked at and seen in the same way that the consumption of food is looked at and seen,” he continues. “You want your family to eat the right foods in the right amounts at the right times. That’s what parents need to do with the media lives of their kids.
“You would not want your kids to choose their own foods entirely so why would you let them choose their own media? There’s good and bad, right amounts and wrong amounts. You don’t leave those choices up to kids only.”
Donati agrees that parents should supervise their kids’ technology exposure and says that one of the positive aspects to children’s media consumption is the quality and quantity available to them.
“As long as the total duration of technology driven activities are kept to a minimum, I think it can be a great addition to a child’s learning routine,” he adds. “However, parents should try to participate with their children during these activities to try to make them as interactive as possible.”
Schwarz says that media and technology do offer some growth opportunities for better family relationships and increased communication. For example, Skype, which allows video calls over the internet, can be used to reconnect children with parents serving in the military, or college students with family members.
“Things like that are wonderful,” he says. “Families can be brought together.”