History in the Making

Paula LaBrot

We, good neighbors, are creating a history lesson that future people will study looking back at the dawn of technology.

Given that we hold that place on the timeline of human existence, we might want to exert a little control over how that history is going to be written. We don’t really know definitively how the tech revolution is changing human beings. Decades from now, we will know. At present, we do have some data. I am interested in passing on some known information about the effect technology is having on children in an attempt to shape the history we are creating.  

There are developmental, physical and psychological changes we are beginning to measure. So let’s start with one measurement that is astounding. The Huffington Post reports, “A 2010 Kaiser Foundation study showed that elementary aged children use on average 7.5 hours per day of entertainment technology, 75 percent of these children have TV’s in their bedrooms, and 50 percent of North American homes have the TV on all day.” This includes internet, television, video games, tablets and cell phones.

“Four critical factors necessary to achieve healthy child development are movement, touch, human connection, and exposure to nature. These types of sensory inputs ensure normal development of posture, bilateral coordination, optimal levels of alertness, and self-regulation. Young children require two to three hours per day of active, energetic play to achieve adequate sensory stimulation,” according to the Huffington Post.

We have been able to measure the following neurologic effects on children with an overexposure to technology: shorter attention spans, inhibited memory development and inhibited ability for self-regulation.

Psychology Today reports, “…because children’s (1-18) brains are still developing and malleable, frequent exposure…to technology is actually wiring the brain in ways very different than in previous generations.”

For example, reading trained young brains to be focused, imaginative and reflective, but the internet encourages young brains to scan and locate information quickly, discouraging information retention. (You can always “search”) Hence, inhibited memory development, but balanced by a great ability to seek and process information very efficiently in a chaotically jammed world of information.

Physically, unstructured play and outdoor pastimes are crucial to child development. David Elkind writes that digital children have fewer opportunities to exercise their autonomy and originality compared to children engaged in free play. “In the past two decades alone…children have lost 12 hours of free time a week, and eight of those lost hours were once spent in unstructured play and outdoor pastimes.”

The sedentary nature of technology has resulted in an epidemic of obesity and diabetes among the young. The American Optometric Association warns that lack of natural daylight may increase the likelihood of myopia…nearsightedness. They warn parents to watch for digital eyestrain and headaches. Carpal tunnel syndrome and “Blackberry Thumb” are not uncommon.  

High-energy, short-wavelength blue and violet light may prematurely age eyes. Screen light, also, disrupts normal sleep patterns, inhibiting restorative sleep. As mentioned in an earlier column, G really wants to do a study on the sleep history of children diagnosed with ADD. He thinks a lot of them may just not be getting enough quality sleep.

On the psychological level, one great tech casualty for the digital child is empathy, an imaginative experiencing of the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of another. A sharp decline has been measured in the empathy trait by Jennifer Aaker at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Also, with less and less face-to-face time, children are not developing the “muscles” to read non-verbal cues.

Neuroscientist Gary Small writes, “Humans send many nonverbal cues, from fidgeting to foot tapping, long pauses to eye contact. Reading those signs is a skill “that young people are not learning when they’re using these devices.” They are not learning to hold a conversation, which could limit their social and interviewing skills. Most disturbing of all, the bonds of family are becoming shallower in households where technology is overused.

Finding balance is the key to a healthy relationship with technology. Tech is wonderful. It opens the world, gives amazing access to information and connects people around the globe. Yes, there are costs, but by being aware of those costs, we can minimize them and keep the experience positive and healthy.

What to do?

Be aware that we are the ones making history. Put your kids on a healthy tech diet. Limit device time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours a day for all devices. (What?!)  No devices in the bedroom. Certainly, no devices on at night. Plenty of outdoor activity. No devices at the table. Sacred family time…and that’s especially for teens, too. Unplug once in a while with board games, cards, treasure hunts, outings.

Oh, very important: model good behavior.

Tech is here to stay. Let’s make its early history healthy!

Vamos a ver!


Paula LaBrot

Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyberspace. plabrot@messengermountainnews.com

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