The memory of the good old days when we grew up is a journey of memories worth taking while trying to understand the problems faced by today’s children. Just 20 years ago, children played all day outdoors, riding bicycles, playing sports and building forts. Masters of imaginary games, children of the past created their own form of play that did not require expensive equipment or parental supervision. The children of the past were very moving and their world of senses was based on nature and simple. In the past, family time was often spent on chores and the children had to live up to their expectations on a daily basis. The dining room table was the central place for families to get together to eat and talk about their day, and after lunch it became a center for baking, crafts and housework.
Today’s families are different. The impact of technology on the 21st century family is destroying its foundations and breaking down basic values that held families long ago. When combining work, home and social life, parents rely heavily on communication, information and transportation technology to make their lives faster and more effective. Entertainment technology (television, internet, video games, iPods) has developed so quickly that families hardly noticed the significant impact and changes in family structure and lifestyle. A 2010 Kaiser Foundation study found that primary age children use an average of 8 hours a day on entertainment technology, 75% of them have a TV in their bedrooms, and 50% of North American homes have a TV on all day. Add in e-mails, cell phones, surfing the internet and chats and we begin to see the ubiquitous aspects of technology in our home and family environment. Disappeared conversation at the dining room table, replaced by the “big screen” and take out. Children now rely on technology for most of their play, grossly reducing the challenges to their creativity and imagination, as well as limiting the challenges necessary for their body to achieve optimal sensory and motor development. Sedentary bodies bombarded with chaotic sensory stimulation delay child developmental milestones, which affect basic literacy skills. Permanently adapted to high speed, today’s adolescents enter school struggling with the self-regulation and attention skills necessary for learning, which ultimately becomes a major behavior management problem for teachers in the classroom.
So what is the impact of technology on a developing baby? The developing sensory and motor systems in children have not evolved biologically to adapt to the sedentary, but crazy and chaotic nature of today’s technology. The impact of rapidly developing technology on the developing child has resulted in an increase in physical, mental and behavioral disorders that health and education systems are just beginning to detect, let alone understand. Child obesity and diabetes are now nationwide epidemics in both Canada and the United States. The diagnoses of ADHD, autism, coordination disorders, sensory processing disorders, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders can be causally related to the overuse of technology and are increasing at an alarming rate. An urgent closer look at the critical factors determining the achievement of milestones in development, and then the impact of technology on these factors, would help parents, educators and healthcare professionals better understand the complexity of the problem and help create effective strategies for reducing the use of technology. The three key factors to a healthy physical and mental development of a child are movement, touch and connection with other people. Movement, touch and connection are all forms of essential sensory input that are integral to a child’s final motor development and attachment systems. When movement, touch, and connection are deprived, devastating consequences arise.
Young children need 3-4 hours a day of active play in rough and falls to achieve adequate sensory stimulation of their vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile systems for normal development. The critical period for the development of attachment is 0-7 months, when the infant-parent bond is best facilitated by close contact with the primary parent and lots of eye contact. These types of sensory stimuli ensure normal postural development, bilateral coordination, optimal states of arousal, and the self-regulation necessary to achieve basic skills before eventually entering school. Infants with a low tone, young children who fail to achieve motor milestones, and children who are unable to pay attention or acquire basic literacy skills are frequent visitors to pediatric physiotherapy and occupational therapy clinics. The use of restraint devices such as bucket seats for babies, backpacks and toddler strollers further reduces movement, touch and communication, as does the abuse of television and video games. Many parents today consider playing outdoors to be “dangerous,” which further limits the basic developmental elements that are usually achieved when playing outdoors. Dr. Ashley Montagu, who has extensively studied the developing tactile sensory system, reports that when infants are deprived of human contact and touch, they fail to develop and many eventually die. Dr Montagu says children deprived of touch develop into young children who are over-agitated and anxious, and may become depressed in early childhood.
As children increasingly connect to technology, society perceives a separation from themselves, from others, and from nature. As young children develop and shape their identity, they often cannot tell whether they are a “killing machine” seen on TV and video games, or just a shy and lonely child in need of a friend. Addiction to television and video games is causing an irreversible worldwide epidemic of mental and physical health disorders, but we all find excuses to continue. Where we had to move 100 years ago to survive, we now make the assumption that we need technology to survive. The catch is that technology kills what we love the most … connecting with other people. The critical period for creating attachment is the age of 0-7 months. Attachment or connection is the creation of an essential bond between the developing infant and the parent and is an integral part of the developing child’s sense of security and safety. Healthy attachment formation results in a happy and calm baby. The disruption or neglect of the original attachment results in a restless and agitated child. Family abuse of technology seriously not only affects early attachment formation, but also negatively impacts a child’s mental and behavioral health.
Further analysis of the effects of technology on the developing child shows that while the vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile and attachment systems are poorly stimulated, the visual and auditory sensory systems are “overloaded”. This sensory imbalance creates enormous problems in overall neurological development as the anatomy, chemistry, and pathways of the brain are permanently altered and damaged. Young children who are exposed to violence through television and video games are in a state of high levels of adrenaline and stress because the body doesn’t know what they’re watching isn’t real. Children who abuse technology report persistent body sensations of general “shaking”, rapid breathing and heart rate, and a general state of “restlessness”. This can best be described as a persistent, hyper-sensitive sensory system, still “alert” to the oncoming attack from video game characters. While the long-term effects of this chronic stress on the developing child are unknown, we know that chronic stress in adults causes a weakening of the immune system and a number of serious diseases and disorders. Prolonged visual fixation at a fixed distance, the two-dimensional screen grossly restricts the eye development necessary for eventual printing and reading. Consider the difference between visually locating on different objects of various shapes and sizes at close and far distances (such as exercised while playing outdoors) as opposed to looking at a fixed-distance glowing screen. This rapid intensity, frequency and duration of visual and auditory stimulation results in a child’s sensory system hardwired into high speed with a consequent devastating effect on a child’s ability to imagine, attend and focus on academic assignments. Dr. Dimitri Christakis found that every hour of watching TV daily between the ages of 0 and 7 equates to a 10% increase in attention problems at age seven.
In 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a declaration recommending that children under the age of two should not use any technology, while children aged 0 to 2 years old watch TV an average of 2.2 hours a day. The Academy also recommended that children over the age of two limit their use to one hour a day if they have any physical, psychological or behavioral problems, and a maximum of two hours a day if they don’t, however parents of primary school children allow 8 hours. daily. day. France has gone so far as to eliminate all “children’s television” due to its detrimental effect on children’s development. How can parents continue to live in a world where they know what is bad for their children but do nothing to help them? It seems that families today have been sucked into the “Virtual Reality Dream” in which everyone believes that life requires an escape. The immediate satisfaction of the constant use of television, video games, and internet technology has replaced the desire for human contact.
It is important to come together as parents, teachers and therapists to help society “wake up” and see the devastating effects technology has on not only our child’s physical, mental and behavioral health, but also their ability to learn and sustaining personal life and family relationships. While technology is a train that will keep going, knowledge of its harmful effects and actions taken to balance technology use with exercise and family time will work to keep our children alive and save our world. While no one can argue about the benefits of advanced technology in today’s world, connecting to these devices may have disconnected from what society should value most – children. Instead of cuddling, playing, rough living and talking to their kids, parents are increasingly providing their kids with more video games, in-car televisions, and the latest iPods and cell phones, creating a deep and widening parent-child gap.
Cris Rowan, a pediatric occupational therapist and child development expert, has developed a concept called “Sustainable Technology Management” (BTM), where parents balance the activities their children need to thrive with their success in using technology. Rowana Zone’in Programs Inc. http://www.zonein.pl developed a “Solution System” aimed at solving the problem of technology abuse in children by creating Zone’in Products, Workshops, Training and Consultation services.