7 Negative Effects of Technology on Child Development
While early exposure of technology to our children can certainly be a gift— spurring early learning with interactive educational apps, or igniting a foundational passion for computer coding, robotics, or other such hobbies— we, as parents, have to be sure technology is used with responsible boundaries.
Technology use can pose a constant battle between us and our children, with technological temptations being around us in our homes, in their schools, everywhere we go in public, and even in our pockets. This is why understanding the negative effects of technology on your child’s development is so important, and can help you keep your foot down when your child won’t stop asking for tablet time!
The Cons of Technology on Child Development
1. Decreased Social & Relational Skills Development
The more time children spend online, the less time they spend connecting in-person with their peers and family. This can harm not only the bond and progression of relationships with the people closest to them, but also their ability to form new relationships. It’s crucial for children to both laugh and disagree with other children, learning how to get along with, and defend themselves in social settings. Furthermore, it’s equally as important to be able to read other peoples’ nonverbal body language, such as what it looks like when someone is happy or angry with them.
This lower relational development also applies to their relationship with themselves. By having less experience forming and maintaining close interpersonal relationships offline, children spend more time isolated, develop less of a sense of their place in the world, experience less chances to strengthen their self-esteem in relation to other people, and ultimately, form a lower sense of their identity.
2. Physical Inactivity & Obesity
What is your child doing while watching television or playing games on their tablet? It’s likely that the answer is eating a snack, lying or sitting down, possibly tapping their foot, or fidgeting with something in their hands. The problem with this is that consuming technology doesn’t naturally allow for much movement or physical activity. In fact, research has shown that there is a direct positive correlation between technology consumption and child obesity.
While children watching their favorite colorful and educational television shows seem harmless, the truth is that it can actually be harmful to their health. In order to set foolproof boundaries with your children, you can try using an app that only allows your child to play on their tablets for a pre-set amount of time. After all, the less time they spend sitting in front of the television, the more time they can spend running around outside with friends, using their imaginations, and getting exercise, which helps them to grow up healthier and happier!
3. Irregular Sleep Schedule
The use of screen time at any point in your child’s day can affect their sleep routine and cycles more significant than you might think. According to Raising Children: The Australian Parenting Website, parents should limit screen time exposure to no less than one hour before bedtime, as blue light might suppress your child’s natural release of melatonin around bedtime, therefore delaying sleep. And while regular screen time can stimulate your child less than one hour before bedtime, Raising Children claims that being exposed to violent content, such as war video games, at ANY point in their day can prevent your child from getting quality sleep at night.
In order to avoid any arguments with your child about having screen time less than an hour before bed, you can create a habit in your family for everyone to leave their devices in a designated room other than your child’s bedroom overnight. With all technology being out of sight while your child gets ready for bed at night, and with no notification sounds disrupting your child’s sleep, they can get quality, consistent sleep.
4. Increased Anxiety, Depression & Aggression
Child psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Dunckley coined the clinical term “Electronic Screen Syndrome” as a way to describe the higher rates of anxiety, depression, aggression, inconsolable tantrums, and overall irritability that children exhibit as a result of excessive screen time. As a result, children can also experience cognitive decline, memory loss, slower cognitive development “normal” for their age range, and perform worse in school.
While excessive screen time can negatively affect mental health in many ways, it has also been a factor in causing the recent increase in behavioral disorders in children in the United States. According to MCHC Health Centers:
“Many pediatric clinicians attribute excessive screen time and inadequate outdoor time to rising rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and even oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). The developing child’s brain gets wired to crave constant stimulation and the child has difficulty coping when the stimulation is withheld.”
This correlation between screen time and a decline in mental health might first be shown in your child’s behavior through addictive behaviors. If your child repeatedly prioritizes screen time over the negative consequences that come from breaking the boundaries you set around technology, this can be a warning sign that your child is becoming addicted. If your child becomes addicted to technology, this means that they have become addicted to the release of dopamine that comes when they are being constantly stimulated from a screen. Children can become so addicted to the dopamine their body releases in response to the technology that by the time they’re a teenager, they may be checking their social media over one hundred times a day!
5. Lower Attention Spans
A recent study in Canada examined 2,427 families’ children, in relation to whether there is a correlation between screen-time and the variance of externalizing behavior, such as inattention and aggression. Of the 2,427 families, 95% of families provided their children with access to screen time. On average, preschoolers already spend about 2 hours a day on screens. While this alone seems to be an almost shocking fact, this pales in comparison to the average of 9 or more hours teenagers spend using technology each day.
In this study, the behavior of children who participated in screen time for more than 2 hours per day was compared to children who participated in less than 30 minutes of screen time per day. The following was found of those who participated in more than 2 hours each day:
- 5 times more likely to exhibit clinically significant “externalizing” behavioral problems (such as inattention).
- Over 7 times more likely to meet the criteria for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
6. Decreased Self-Regulation
More time using tablets, watching screens, or playing video games leaves less time for developing skills such as self-reflection and self-regulation. Technology time can also cause increased conflicts and aggression in your household, with toddlers throwing tantrums over having to turn off the television, and older children getting angry when told to hand over their tablets.
Having to set aside technology can be a consistent trigger for children who haven’t yet developed control over their emotions, or developed self-regulation. Another problem here is that when parents give in to tantrums over technology and let children blur the lines around daily time limits, children learn that they can get more technology time if they simply throw a tantrum. This is a fair example of what it looks like when technology is toxic in a household. Make sure to set concrete boundaries for your child to provide them with more time for strengthening their self-developmental skills!
7. Lower Creativity
Nowadays, there are apps targeted to toddlers that allow them to build with Legos or play with dolls, dollhouses on their screens, instead of playing with them offline in real life. This poses a problem when it comes to creativity. When children actively move their bodies, they actively use their minds, too. Especially for kinesthetic learners, it is important that they are moving their hands and bodies to learn and activate their creative minds. Instead of swiping on a screen, children should spend more time using their creative minds to make crafts, build with Legos, and play with friends outdoors. This ensures that they are engaged in active play using their imaginations, instead of just staring at a screen!
So, What is the “Right Amount” of Screen Time?
In recent years, technology and the appropriate balance of children using it for educational purposes versus unhealthily clinging to a tablet all day has posed issues for modern parents. According to Psychology Today, teens spend an average of 9 hours each day interacting with screens, kids ages 8-12 spend an average of 6 hours each day, and kids ages 2-5 spend about 32 hours each week sitting in front of a screen. This causes issues when children become so addicted to screen time that they subconsciously choose to forgo their basic human needs— not wanting to come downstairs to eat dinner with the family, or choosing texting or social media over getting 8 or more hours of quality sleep. While it is up to you as a parent, the American Academy of Adolescent Psychology recommends that children ages 2-5 have no more than 1 hour of non-educational screen time each day and no more than 3 hours of non-educational screen time on the weekends. Before this age, children should be limited to only educational screen time, and as little screen time as parents feel is appropriate. Talk to your children about their screen time habits and help them to understand the negative aspects of too much screen time, and the many positive benefits of offline play!