Being in my twenties, I have seen technology evolve. As a little girl, when I came home from school, I would start up the computer and play outside for an hour until the computer was ready to use. Looking back makes me realize how much technology has evolved over the years. What does this technology development mean for healthy child development?
A study by Common Sense Media conducted in 2013 revealed that 38 percent of kids under 2 years old are using smartphones or tablets. In two years’ time, tablet use by children up to 8 years old in the US has increased by a fivefold. The use of smartphones by this group also increased: from 52 percent to 75 percent. Furthermore, the average time spent on smart mobile devices by the researched kids has tripled.
Three critical factors required to achieve healthy child development are enough movement, touch, and exposure to nature. Let’s take a look at how technology influences these development aspects.
1. Enough movement
Kids need to move a lot. And with a lot I mean multiple hours a day, every day. Repeated exercise is key to develop a good vestibular system. An underdeveloped vestibular system can result in symptoms such as fatigue, imbalance and visual- and hearing problems. Furthermore, it can have psychological consequences such as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Altogether, people with vestibular disorders can be seen as lazy, unkind or in need of a lot of attention. This can make it hard for them to function in a workplace or school.
School is one of the main obstacles when it comes to enough movement. Kids are required to sit straight and still all day in class. When they move around on their chair or are overly active, they are asked by the teacher to sit still again. However, if the child does not get enough movement after school and therefore does not develop its vestibular system, making the child sit still will make the child’s brain go into sleep-mode.
Given the fact that children do not get enough movement at school, children should be motivated daily to play outside or to practice sports after school. Time spent on the usage of smart mobile devices is time that is not spent on movement, resulting in technology interfering with a crucial aspect of child development.
The sensations you feel when you touch something, whether it is your pet’s back or a piece of a puzzle, is called tactile stimulation. Nerve signals beneath the skin’s surface are activated and these nerve signals inform the body of texture and temperature, as well as other touch-sensations.
For children, touch is important to develop praxis or planned movement structure. The tactile stimulations gained from touching, hugging and playing also activate the parasympathetic system, which lowers stress, adrenalin and anxiety.
Different tactile stimulations are good for a child’s health. Smart mobile devices are made to be touched, but they do not offer different textures or temperatures. Solely offering smart mobile devices as entertainment to kids will result in understimulation of the tactile system. Therefore, these devices should not be replacing real toys, games and natural elements.
3. Exposure to nature
Studies have shown that kids are healthier and happier when they have a connection with nature. Being in nature stimulates focus, learning capabilities and creativity. Furthermore, being surrounded by nature is calming for kids. It relieves stress and improves physical health. Therefore, being in nature also has a positive influence on children who suffer from asthma, obesity or attention deficit disorder.
Children need to be in nature as much as possible, to improve their awareness and to help them find meaning in the life around us. Although cutbacks on fieldtrips, “stranger danger”, germs and insect borne diseases are also reasons why children do not go outside as often anymore, technology keeps kids indoors as well.
In 2014, security company AVG conducted a study in which they asked over 6,000 mothers from 10 countries about their children’s online behavior. It turned out that 12 percent of children in the US spend more than 10 hours per week online, while it would be better for them to spend that time in nature.
An earlier report from AVG, posted in 2011, revealed that 70 percent of UK children aged between two and five can play a simple computer game, while only 43 percent can ride a bike.
It is evident that modern technology influences healthy child development. However, since technology will be part of the future, it might be difficult to keep children away from it. In the end, I think it’s about finding the right balance.
What are your thoughts about healthy child development in combination with modern technology? Leave a comment to share your thoughts!