The Tutoring Center, Dubai UAE

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07/16/2013
Nowadays, kids often know more about technology than their parents. Not only that, but they seem able to operate a whole range of electronic devices from an ever younger age. Looking around, as well as seeing teenagers glued to their phones, we notice infants using iPads and iPods to play games or watch videos. A recent study revealed that 90% of all two-year-olds in America have an online footprint! 

Technology is clearly an excellent learning resource for children. Many teachers recommend websites and apps that can help with spelling and times tables as well as research for projects and homework. It is also true that technology is a great source of entertainment, especially during those busy moments at home when parents are unable to pay full attention to their children. But is it possible for children to spent too much time using electronic devices? And if so, how should parents limit theirs kids’ tech time? 

While some may point out that television has always been used as a substitute educator/babysitter for children, there is an important difference between TV and modern touchscreen technology. Whereas watching TV is essentially a passive experience, one from which children can mentally “switch off”, using modern touchscreen devices is a much more inclusive, interactive experience. Swiping a screen and reacting to what they see engages children’s brains on a whole new level.  

As a result, playing with inanimate toys and going outside become much less enticing prospects, as does face-to-face, personal interaction. And this is possibly the biggest concern of parents worried about their children’s tech time. Could overuse of technology leave them unwilling, or even unable, to communicate in a real-world situation?  

It’s true that most teenagers use devices to keep in touch with their peers, but the online world is devoid of the crucial context that helps us learn empathy. Communicating with someone remotely, it is harder to know how our words impact them. Without seeing and hearing them in person, it is difficult to gauge how they are really feeling. As adults, this is something we are well aware of when texting or emailing, but it is far from obvious for many of today’s adolescents, who possibly spend more time communicating online than they do face-to-face. If too much time is spent on e-communication, they will have more difficulty acquiring the skills necessary for real-world, person-to-person interaction. 

Although younger children spend less time e-communicating, they too are at risk from too much tech time. Neuroscientists have conducted studies that show how interactions with technology over-stimulate the brain. Not only can this make it more difficult for young children to sleep at night, but it can also have an impact on their attention span. For an increasing number of children, relatively slow-paced lessons at schools are simply no match for the instant gratification they gain from playing a game on the iPad. This can lead to their losing interest in learning, which in turn will have detrimental impact on their grades. 

And of course, many of the problems associated with overuse of technology affect adults as well as their offspring. Spending too much time surfing, texting and gaming makes us more sedentary and less healthy. It comes as no surprise that the rise of touchscreen technology has coincided with a spike in obesity levels worldwide.  

So is there a “correct” amount of tech time? Few parents will want to ban the use of electronic devices completely - such a clampdown would likely leave your children feeling out of step with the world around them. But it is a good idea to use a ratio of tech time to non-tech time, depending on the age of your children. For the under-fives, playing electronic games should be limited to around 30 minutes per day, and balanced out with a few hours playing with other toys, exploring outdoors or drawing. Introduce them to a wider variety of storybooks, or a classic board game. This will help them develop essential communication skills that they don’t get from using technology.  

As children get older and technology begins to play a bigger role in their lives, both for school and personal purposes, the amount of tech time will inevitably increase. Yet it is still vital for children to take “tech breaks”, because the stimulated brain needs to return to a more restful state. Walking or exercising outside, listening and playing music or even having a long shower are good ways to calm the brain. Moreover, as well as helping children to relax, these simple activities lull the brain into its “daydream” mode, which encourages greater creativity. 

Technology has changed childhood immeasurably over the last few years. Our children now have access to more learning tools and more information than ever before. While this undoubtedly has its advantages, like anything it should be used in moderation. With increasing numbers of children and adolescents showing signs of “online addiction”, it is clear that too much tech time can leave young people feeling disconnected from the world at large. Technology is here to stay, but our children need to learn how to live with it, rather than live through it.

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