It is worth reminiscing about our childhoods to help us understand today’s challenges. Twenty years ago, children were outside playing all day. They rode bikes, played sports, and built forts. Children of the past were masters of imaginative games and created their own forms of play that didn’t require expensive equipment or parental supervision.
The sensory world of children from the past was simple and nature-based. The past was a time when family time was spent doing chores and the expectation that children would meet every day. The central point where families gathered to eat, talk, and share their days was the dining room table. After dinner, it became the center for homework, baking, and crafts.
The families of today are very different. The 21st century family’s impact on technology is breaking down its foundation and causing a breakdown of core values that once held families together. Parents must now balance work and home, and rely on technology such as communication, information, and transportation technology to make life easier and more efficient.
Rapid Advancement of Entertainment Technology
The rapid advancement of entertainment technology (TV, internet video games, iPods, etc.) has meant that families have barely noticed the changes in their lives and family structures. According to a Kaiser Foundation study, elementary-aged children spend on average 8 hours a day using entertainment technology. 75% of these children have televisions in their bedrooms and half of North American homes have a TV all day.
Add email, cell phones, internet surfing and chat lines and you can see how technology is pervasive in our family lives and home. The dining room table conversation is gone, replaced by the “bigscreen” and take-out. Technology is now the mainstay of children’s play. This creates a huge barrier to creativity and imagination for children, and also limits their ability to develop their motor and sensory skills.
The effects of sensory overload on the body, which can lead to a delay in reaching developmental milestones for children, and subsequently, a decrease in basic literacy skills. Today’s children are wired to move at high speeds and struggle with attention and self-regulation. This can lead to significant behaviour management issues for teachers.
What is the Effect of Technology on a Child’s Development?
The technology of today is chaotic and sedentary and children’s sensory and motor systems are not biologically adapted to it. Rapidly evolving technology has had a significant impact on children’s development. There has been an increase in psychological, physical and behavioral disorders that education and health systems are only beginning to recognize.
Both in Canada and the USA, child obesity and diabetes have become epidemics. Technology overuse can lead to the alarming rise in diagnoses of ADHD, autism and other sleep disorders such as sensory processing disorder, coordination disorder, sensory processing disorder, anxiety and depression.
Parents, teachers, and health professionals should take a closer look at the key factors that are necessary to meet developmental milestones. This will help them understand the complexities of the issue and create effective strategies for reducing technology use.
Movement, touch, and connection are three key factors in healthy psychological and physical child development. For a child to develop their motor and attachment systems, they need sensory input in the form of movement, touch, and connection.
Devastating consequences can occur when movement, touch, and connection are lost.
For normal development, young children need to be active for 3-4 hours a day. Attachment development begins at 0-7 months. This is when infant-parent bonding is most effective.
These sensory inputs help children develop their posture, bilateral coordination, self-regulation, and arousal states. Pediatric physiotherapy and occupational therapy clinics are frequently visited by children with low tone, toddlers who fail to reach motor milestones, or those who cannot pay attention or have basic literacy skills.
Safety restraints such as toddler bucket seats, toddler carrying bags, and strollers have also limited movement, touch, and connection. Outdoor play is often viewed as unsafe by many parents today, which further limits the development of essential components normally found in outdoor rough-and-tumble play.
Dr Ashley Montagu has extensive experience studying the development of the tactile sensory system. She reports that infants who are denied touch and human contact fail to thrive, and many end up dying. Dr Montagu says that infants without touch develop into anxious toddlers and can become depressed in their early childhood.
Society is experiencing a disconnect with themselves, nature, and others as children connect more to technology. As children grow up, many are unable to distinguish whether they are “killing machines” as they see on TV or in video games. Or if they are just shy, lonely, and in desperate need of a friend.
Television and Video Game Addiction
Television and video game addiction are causing a worldwide epidemic of mental health disorders and physical disabilities. Yet, we find excuses to keep going. We are now assuming that technology is what we need to survive. 100 years ago, we had to move in order to survive.
Technology is destroying what we love most…connection with other humans. Between 0 and 7 months is the critical time for attachment formation. Attachment, or connection, is the formation of a primary relationship between the infant and the parent. It is essential to the child’s senses of safety and security.
A happy, calm child is the result of healthy attachment formation. An anxious child will be upset if primary attachment is disrupted or neglected. Technology overuse by the family is a grave problem that not only affects early attachment formation, but also has a negative impact on a child’s psychological or behavioural health.
An analysis of the effect of technology on the development of children shows that the vestibular and proprioceptive, tactile, and attachment systems are all under-stimulated. However, the visual, auditory, and other sensory systems are “overloaded”.
This sensory imbalance causes huge problems for overall neurological development. The brain’s anatomy and chemistry are permanently altered and impaired. Children who watch violence on TV or in video games as children are often in high levels of stress and adrenalin. Their bodies don’t know what is real.
Children who use technology excessively report constant body sensations such as shaking, increased heart rate and breathing, and general unease. This is best described as a persistent hypervigilant sensor system that is constantly “on alert” for any new assaults from videogame characters.
Although we don’t know the long-term effects on the child, we do know that chronic stress can lead to a weak immune system and other serious disorders.
Visual fixation on a two-dimensional screen at a fixed distance can severely limit the ability to develop your eyes for reading and printing. Think about the difference in visual location between objects of different shapes and sizes in the near and distant (such as outdoor play) and looking at a fixed distance glowing screen.
The child’s senses are “hard wired” for high speed. This can have devastating consequences on their ability to focus, imagine, and attend school. Dr Dimitri Christakis discovered that every hour of TV viewed daily between the ages 0 and 7 years was associated with a 10% increase of attention problems at seven years.
The American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement in 2001 advising that children under two years old should not use technology. However, toddlers aged 0-2 years of age watch an average of 2.2 hours of television per day.
The Academy recommended that children over two years old should limit their use to one hour per week if they have any behavioural, psychological, or physical problems. Parents of elementary children can allow 8 hours per day.
France has taken drastic measures to end all baby TV due to its detrimental effect on child development. How is it possible for parents to continue living in a world that knows what is wrong for their children and yet does nothing to help them? Today’s families seem to have fallen for the “Virtual Reality Dream”, a world where everyone believes life is a journey that can be escaped.
The desire to connect with people has been replaced by the immediate satisfaction that is offered by the continual use of television, videogame, and internet technology.
It is important that parents, teachers, and therapists come together to see the terrible effects technology has on children’s mental, physical, and behavioural health, as well as their ability to learn and maintain personal and familial relationships.
Technology is a train that is always moving forward. However, it is important to be aware of its negative effects and take action towards balancing technology use with exercise and family time. This will help our children and save the world.
Although there are many benefits to modern technology, it is possible that society has lost touch with what children should be valued most.
Parents are more inclined to play, hug, roughhouse, and converse with their children than they are to hugging, play, roughhousing and talking with them. They also tend to give their children more video games, TVs in cars, and the latest iPhones and other cell phones. This creates a widening gap between parents and children.
Balanced Technology Management (BTM)
Cris Rowan is a pediatric occupational therapist and child developmental expert who has created a concept called Balanced Technology Management (BTM). This allows parents to manage the balance between technology use and activities that children need in order for them to grow and succeed.
Rowan’s company Zone’in Programs Inc. http://www.zonein.ca developed a “System of Solutions” to address technology abuse in children by creating Zone’s products, workshops, training, and consultation services.
Cris Rowan, an occupational therapist passionate about technology, has a firsthand understanding of how technology can affect a child’s ability to learn and behaviour.
Cris holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Occupational Therapy and a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. He is also a SIPT-certified sensory integrator specialist. Cris is a member of good standing of the BC College of Occupational Therapists and an approved provider with both the American Occupational Therapy Association and the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists.
Cris has been a specialist in pediatric rehabilitation for the past 15 years. He spent more than ten years in British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast School District.
Cris is the CEO of Zone’in Programs Inc., which offers products, workshops, and training to improve academic performance and child health. Cris created the educational products Zone’in (Move’in), Unplug’in, Live and Unplug’in for elementary children in response to the rising incidence of behaviour disorders and developmental delays.
Cris has conducted over 200 Foundation Series Workshops in topics such as sensory integration, attention, motor development, literacy, attachment formation, addictions, early intervention technology overuse, media literacy programs and school environment design for the 21st Century for teachers, parents, and health professionals across North America.
Cris recently established Zone’in Training Programs in order to teach other pediatric occupational therapists how to present these workshops in their local communities. Cris is an expert editor for Canadian Family Physician Journal. He also writes the monthly Zone’in Development Series Newsletter.
Unplug – Don’t Drug, Creating Sustainable Futures Program and Linking Corporations with Community. Cris is the author of Disconnect to Reconnect, a book about how to balance the activities that children require for growth and success in technology use.