The digital age has changed the early years immensely for young kids in the past decade. Life is full of multiple encounters with screen interaction daily, all of which in varied ways tend to interrupt natural, cognitive, tangible learning for children in early development. Today, it's not unusual to come across touchscreen tots. There are mixed views about the global situation ranging from extreme ones involving complete technology abstinence in childhood ‘til age 12 to the other side of balanced and combined integration of digital time with many other tangible activities.
Of course, given the obvious concern of also adapting to modern society, there would be mixed feelings on the matter, but majority of the studies by researchers and pediatric experts show that prolonged exposure to digital media is not recommended, especially for babies and toddlers.
Pediatrician, researcher, and parent, Dimitri Christakis (all of which he became in that exact order) became specifically interested in early learning when he became a father. He gave a well-outlined TED talk on the matter of how early learning is affected in today’s digital age.
“We know that deprivation of stimulation in children is bad but we decided to ask the question ‘What about over stimulation?’. Is it possible to inappropriately stimulate the brain in a way that is harmful?”
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His team’s findings: “The more television children watched before the age of 3, the more likely they were to actually have attentional problems at school age. Specifically for each hour that they watched before the age of 3, their attentional problems was increased by about 10%. So a child who watch two hours of TV by the age of 3 would be 20% more like to have problems than a child who watched none.”
“The more cognitive stimulation children received (how often they had bedtime story reading, museum trips, musical interaction) it reduced the chances of attentional problems later on in life. Each hour of cognitive stimulation reduced the chances of these attention problems by 30%.”
In a separate study called the PEACH project, the University of Bristol did a social experiment studying over 1,000 children ages 10 and 11. The results were concerning given that these children even still had physical activity integrated in their daily lives. The study was able to link over 2 hours of TV and computer time as being able to affect psychological scores negatively, even if these children still had exercise as part of their day.
There have even been certain digital media guidelines released by groups of pediatric and neurological experts like this one from 2014, as more of like a guide for parents laying down rules for gadget use. If it feels too restrictive it can at least serve as a launchpad for forming a definitive guide or your own personalized "Ten Commandments" for technology in your home.
“The following Technology Use Guidelines for children and youth were developed by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist and author of Virtual Child; Dr. Andrew Doan, neuroscientist and author of Hooked on Games; and Dr. Hilarie Cash, Director of reSTART Internet Addiction Recovery Program and author ofVideo Games and Your Kids, with contribution from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society in an effort to ensure sustainable futures for all children.”
However, according to Michael Levine, founding director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center (part of Sesame Workshop), gadget usage in terms of time restriction isn’t just what parents should be mindful of. He says that kids will consume what he calls “empty calories” of digital content if parents don’t choose or filter quality content for their kids when gadget time is in session. What they watch is of great importance, not just how much or how often they spend time consuming media. If parents monitor the content and make gadget or media time an educational but fun experience to look forward to, then laying down and implementing rules for usage should feel less like tug-of-war on a daily basis.
So, if you want your child to develop a healthy, well-adjusted attention span and the ability to focus better and carry that into adulthood then cognitive interactions and interpersonal connection in terms of nurturing growth and learning are still favored and recommended. Foster bonding with your children, it isn't just for them, it's for you as well. Your personal time with your children is the best gift you can give, whether gadgets and media are somewhat involved in your activities or not, personal interaction should still rank highest. You could also take your kids to places where cognitive play is encouraged. One place locally, Kidzania Manila, is a venue where play educates and motivates kids to be their very best without it feeling like school... work becomes play and play boosts their ability to learn faster.
At the very least, in terms of balance, children should have much more of you as a parent than digital soup that's way too easy to slurp and not too good if consumed excessively. After all, should the hyped theory of global fallout happen and all technology and modern infrastructure fall away what will be left for people to do except positively and intelligently interact with each other on a personal level?
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Kidzania Manila photographs by author