TL;DR version: In response to request for a ban on technological devices for children under 12, I urge caution and balance in the relationships that we all have with digital texts and tools.
A recent post on the Parents section of HuffPo from Cris Rowan, a pediatric occupational therapist, details the need for a ban on the use of handhelds for children under 12. Rowan cites information from the fact sheet they have available on her ZoneinWorkshops website.
Rowan lists the following 10 “research-based reasons” for this ban:
- Rapid Brain Growth – Children’s brains are developing at this age. This excessive stimuli will have deleterious effects.
- Delayed Development – “Technology use restricts movement.” Movement enhances learning, and as a result cognitive development is challenged.
- Epidemic Obesity – “TV and video game use correlates with obesity.” This is increasing on an epidemic scale.
- Sleep Deprivation – Parents don’t monitor their children and technology usage. If they’re using tech all night instead of sleeping…
- Mental Illness – “Technology overuse is implicated as a causal factor in rising rates of child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit, autism, bipolar disorder, psychosis and problematic child behavior.”
- Aggression – “Violent media content can cause child aggression.”
- Digital Dementia – High speed media content can lead to ADHD and pruning of the mental processes that the developing brain needs.
- Addictions – As parents attach more and more to technology, they detach from their kids. When parents detach from their kids…their kids get addicted to other things.
- Radiation Emission – Possible radiation emissions and carcinogens from technological devices.
- Unsustainable – “The ways in which children are raised and educated with technology are no longer sustainable.”
I tried to capture the essence of each of these points up above without providing commentary. Please review the full post from Cris Rowan for more details on each reason and the research provided.
In my opinion dialogue such as this pops up every couple of years and provides an important critical examination of our relationship with digital texts and tools. I urge readers to consider the facts presented, but also avoid going to the extent of banning devices, or feeding to a technological panic.
I agree with some of the points presented above by Cris Rowan, but I also think that there are some general leaps made in the reasoning identified by linking together multiple streams of data and research. For example, I think that overuse of technology could be viewed as one factor in child depression, but I cannot make the leap to say that tech and device use by children under 12 will automatically lead to mental illness, or in some cases aggression. I believe that radiation and carcinogenic emissions need to be studied further and it has me concerned. I do not agree with the connections made between devices and digital dementia, addictions, or cognitive and socioemotional development.
Finally, I also do not subscribe to the “unsustainable” nature of education and technology. I believe that rising costs and digital waste make continual purchasing of newer and newer devices to be problematic. In terms of teaching and learning with technology and devices, I do believe that we need to provide more opportunities for students to create, connect, and share in online spaces. Furthermore, regardless of our desire to create balance in technology and device use, our schools from K through 12 and higher education are pushing our students into these learning spaces. The purpose for these decisions is could be budgetary, or due to space constraints. Regardless of these reasons, we need to study opportunities to improve teaching and learning with technology.
As the father of a four year old (and with another on the way) I am very concerned and aware of the relationship that my son has with technology. I am also much more concerned about the way that he view my relationship with technology. Is my relationship with him always mediated by a cell phone, or computer? Am I talking to him, or looking at him around the frame of my cell phone? I don’t believe that technology and devices will turn his brain to jello, but I do have concerns about his ability to personally emote and connect with me (and others).
I also think that we’re in the middle of the story right now in regards to technology use. I believe that we really don’t know the overall effects of these connections and devices. A week after this post was filed on HuffPo, several other research reports heralded the recent advances to brain chemistry and physiology as a result of technology, device, and screen use. I think we really don’t know as of yet. We’ll find out the real effects in a generation or two. I’m always aware of the fears people had about newspaper publishing, the telegraph, radio, tv, etc.
Wearing my researcher hat, I think we need to conduct more research, and identify more opportunities to authentically and effectively use technology in teaching and learning. As an educator, I also believe that we need more opportunities to read and write using digital texts and tools. I also believe that it all has to boil down to student learning objectives. If our use of technology makes teaching and learning better…I’m all for it. If not…why are you using tech? As a parent, I urge caution. In my house I strive for balance. I want my son to be able to play with technology and handhelds. We MAKE things with LEDs and stop motion animation. I also read and play cars or Legos. As parents, we try and strike some sort of balance with all forms of screen time.
In closing, I think it is important to try and strike a balance with these digital texts and tools in our lives, and the lives of our children. I think that we must understand that we really don’t know the eventual effects of these interactions. In many ways we are experimenting with our children when we allow them to use these devices. I would only urge balance and caution as we do so. I don’t think bans, or feeding in to a technological panic is the best response.