Benefits and Risks of Technology Use
Technology plays a vital part in our day-to-day lives. Currently, research suggests that children are spending 50% more time on devices during the pandemic compared to before coronavirus. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Technology has many benefits and can provide valuable learning experiences and relaxation time.
Benefits of Technology
While being online means less face-to-face interaction with others, it does allow interaction with people around the world and friends outside of the home. Consequently, the feelings of isolation and loneliness decrease. Self-consciousness and social anxiety may also be controlled as communication does not have to be face-to-face and can be done in a comforting environment. Additionally, children may be able to concentrate more intensely over short periods of time, as the brain develops pathways to understand rapid bursts of information from technology. Further, cognitive improvements can be seen in the areas of visual perception and processing speed.
How Can Technology be a Problem?
Technology can be a problem for children when they are not spending enough time on other healthy activities. Children need to have a balance between screen time, outdoor time, sleep, social interaction, time with family, and participation in physical activities or playtime. When this balance is not present children can experience stress and anxiety as their needs are not being met.
Spending large amounts of time online can lead to adverse behaviours when children are off screens in their daily lives. They can develop a negative outlook on the world as they are accustomed to games that can be cruel, rude or disrespectful. In extremes this sort of outlook and behaviours can lead to cyberbullying. Additionally, children may become more attracted to the more interesting or less painful worlds in their games, which can lead to addiction and the consequences that follow addiction.
Research suggests that toddlers have more tantrums and struggle to self-regulate their emotions when they spend too much time on screens. When technology is taken away from them, they react with the same withdrawal symptoms as alcoholics or drug addicts. Additionally, too much technology as an infant can lead to depression and bipolar disorder as they become teens and adults.
Too much time on technology also affects our cognition. Studies have frequently shown that technology use is associated with a shorter attention span. This means that we cannot concentrate on tasks for a long period of time, an issue that can affect school and work. Indeed, it has been suggested that we are constantly looking for new bits and pieces of information (like what appears in online feeds) to feel positive emotions, as the brain releases dopamine when excited by new information. Further, a “digital fog” exists when we spend too much time on devices. This is when we feel tired, irritable and distracted after being on technology. In extremes, these negative emotions can lead to burnout. The brain tries to improve this feeling by releasing the chemicals cortisol and adrenaline, which improve mood in the short term. However, these are hormones usually associated with stress and in the long term they can alter our self-regulation abilities and lead to mood disorders.
Social interactions can also be adversely affected by technology use. Some children have greater difficulty reading facial expressions after spending too much time on technology. This can lead to awkward interactions when these children are unable to read body language and facial cues. These misinterpretations can escalate to feeling isolated or bullied.
- Academic concerns
- Loss of interest in other activities
- Increased negative moods or behaviours
- Not getting enough sleep
- Prioritising technology over social interaction or activities they previously enjoyed.
Parental use of technology can also be problematic for children. Children, particularly infants, rely on parental attention for their social and emotional development. Research has found that children whose parents are on technology for a considerable time are more negative and less resilient. When parents are spending significant amounts of time on technology infants are less likely to explore the world around them, and express more distress compared to infants whose parents are not on mobile phones often. Parents who are distracted by phones and constantly check them are less predictable, attentive and reliable to their children. This is problematic as it affects brain development and can lead to mood disorders (like anxiety and depression) later in life. This does not mean that a parent can never be on their phone, it simply means that you should give children as much attention as possible when with them.
Guidelines suggest that infants should have no contact with devices, children aged 3-5 should have one hour per day, and children aged 6-18 be allowed 2 hours per day. On average, people are spending 4 times the amount of allocated time on devices, so be mindful of the amount of time spent.
- Parents should be mindful about their use of technology in the presence of children and model healthy habits
- Ensure that children are living balanced lives with interests outside of technology
- Limit the amount of time spent on technology
- Restrict online access, particularly for young children. Also be mindful about where your child is using technology (e.g., isolated in their bedroom or with adult supervision in shared areas)
- Have a predictable routine for when technology use is allowed and how much time is allowed
- Try not to feel guilty when the routine is not followed exactly
- Be flexible in response to changing needs and situations.
- Choose high quality, educational apps or programs for children to interact with
- Use technology as a chance for bonding by watching videos or playing games together
- Use technology as an opportunity to build or strengthen social connections through video chats or interactive games
- Be empathetic towards children when they are upset about getting off technology, but remain firm and encourage other activities
- Be gentle towards yourself as you enforce these recommendations as they can take time and the first step is often the hardest