Some 60 percent of children under the age of two use their parents’ smartphones. We are talking about digital natives — modern children “born” with technology in hand who spend increasing amounts of time attached to electronic devices. Is it fair to leave them in the care of illuminated screens? There are a few who support the technology, and a majority who think it is damaging. But is this really the case?
Digital children: pros and cons
Today, there are children's tablets designed to run apps for educational purposes targeting different age groups. Using technology, little ones can learn anything from foreign languages to exercises in logic, and freely express their imagination and creativity.
It is undeniable that using technological devices from a young age can make it possible to develop superior cognitive skills; however, on-going exposure to diverse and stimulating information can reduce the ability to concentrate.
Sociologists and psychologists point out that the benefits of using digital devices for children in a careful and supervised manner are greater than the risks.
The underlying problem therefore is not so much technology but the use of it by parents as a distraction from the tantrums and demands of children. While the youngsters are overwhelmed with colours and animations, parents can devote themselves to their activities without being disturbed. But these modern babysitters also pose a health risk to children that increase over time, including:
• Psychological isolation of children
• Deterioration of children's eyesight due to prolonged use of technological tools.
Children’s use of technology: studies
A survey conducted by the Trieste Children's Health Center in collaboration with the Paediatric Cultural Association revealed that 60 percent of parents allow their 2-year-old children to use their cell phones. But this early passage into the virtual world damages children’s growing processes. Children need to understand reality through all five senses.
In short, if it is true that we are talking about digital natives and that the advancement of technology cannot be slowed down, it is just as true that children must have proper psychophysical development and the spasmodic use of smartphones and tablets does not help them all.
Their activities must be monitored by their parents, as pointed out by the guidelines of the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP):
For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.
For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviours essential to health.
For children of every age: Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
Obviously, beyond the guidelines, it is crucial for children to have a continuous relationship with their parents and peers, based on dialogue and not just relegated to technology.
Responsible and guided use is the best opportunity and will allow this generation to experience modernity without losing sight of reality and without missing out on childhood experience – even knees scraped while chasing a ball.
Ilaria Di Paolo writes for Family and Media, a MercatorNet partner site where this article was first published.