Technology Impact on Child Growth & Development

How many parents remember growing up hearing, “too much television will rot your brain?”  While too much of anything can be bad for you, the real concern that parents should have regarding their child’s use of technology is how it can impact their behavior.

Young child staring at a computer screen

Technology is an ever present part of our daily lives and the amount of time we spend interacting with our personal technology devices is only increasing as we feel the need to stay connected.  As a result, it’s nearly impossible to prevent our young children from also desiring these interactions.

It’s our job as parents to find the RIGHT ways for our little guys and gals to interact with technology.  And to do this, we need to understand the ways technology impacts our children, and how to encourage the right use of technology. The goal is for tech to have a positive effect on their behavior and development, as opposed to a negative one.

Technology, when used correctly, can actually have a very positive effect on a child’s development.  Studies have found that our ability to identify key information buried within a cluster of characters and visual stimuli (advertisements) has increased as technology has become more integrated in our lives.  In addition, regular interfaces with technology can lead to improved hand-eye coordination, multi-tasking, and reaction time. However, when screen time is not properly controlled, there can be negative effects of technology on child development. 

How Does Technology Affect Children’s Behavior & Social Skills?

Excessive amounts of technology time during a child’s developmental years is likely to have an impact on growth. Although some technology exposure can be good, here are a few different areas where a child could encounter difficulties as a result of too much screen time. 

Critical thinking

Not surprisingly, studies have shown that the increase of technology has led to a decrease in daily reading. In addition, it’s been argued that because many blocks of text you encounter on digital devices are written in 140 characters or less, children are not challenged to think critically, or to expand on their thoughts.

To counteract this, and encourage critical thinking, be sure to set aside time every day for reading where no electronics are present. Critical thinking can be developed through conversation expansion, which is when you help your children learn to build on conversations by referencing past experiences or things they’ve read.

Attention & imagination

Attention span development is affected by environmental factors. With the various forms of technology available, children are often more distracted and less likely to focus on something else when it is present.  

Also, when there is a great deal of visual stimuli and a lack of story reading, this can impact a child’s development of imagination. To counteract this, it is important that children have the opportunity to explore old-fashioned imaginative play and to let their imaginations run wild in storybooks. 

Privacy & safety

As advances in technology lead to increasing levels of connectedness, we must consider the effects that social media and the internet can have on our child’s mental outlook, as well as their privacy and safety.  It is important to know what activities your children are exploring online as well as cultivate an open relationship where your child feels comfortable discussing any concerning behavior they come across online.  

Children in these settings can often be exposed to various degrees of bullying, which can have lasting impacts on a child’s social and emotional development as well as their self-esteem.

While social media can be utilized as a way to strengthen existing relationships, it is important to give them the opportunity to practice conversational and social skills without technology. Children that are constantly using technology may be hesitant to interact with other children in a social environment, which can have negative long-term effects

Make sure you give your child plenty of opportunities to practice in social settings by modeling these conversational skills yourself.

Here are a few important parenting ideas to help limit the negative impacts of technology on children: 

  • Be informed and involved in current digital trends your kids may come across. 
  • Be aware of what your child is using technology for.
  • Encourage using screen time for games or shows that are educational. 
  • Develop and open relationship to discuss any concerns.
  • Create “unplugged” time on a regular basis – which applies to everyone in the family.
  • Encourage use of imagination and relationship building with others in real life.
  • Be a strong role model yourself when it comes to technology use.  

We must make sure that social media does not dictate the expectations and rules for our children.

Technology is undoubtedly useful in our daily lives, but both parents and children alike need to understand that technology should be used as a learning tool, and should not substitute real world interactions. To see ideas on how technology can be used to support early childhood development, please read my other article How to use Technology to Support Development.

 

How to encourage play

Imaginary play is crucial to a child’s healthy development. When your child engages in imaginary play, they are actively experimenting with the social and emotional roles of life. They will also explore using new words that you may not have heard them use before. Imaginary play also poses many opportunities where children must use thinking skills to problem solve. See our guide to 10 toys that encourage imaginary play.