How Much is Too Much – Technology

At what age should children have a Smartphone? Should an 11-year-old watch PG-13 movies? When is a good time to introduce video games (my child is begging to play!)? How much time in front of a screen is too much?

Navigating the influence of digital media on our children can be confusing and frustrating – particularly without good guidance or support. These technologies are a brand new development in human history, and therefore we are just beginning to witness their impact on people.

Smartphones, video games, television, and social media are a part of our daily lives and our children’s lives. Even if kids are not personally connecting to technology, they are keenly watching us. Recently, while enjoying brunch with my adult children, I noticed a 7-month-old-ish baby holding her flat hand on her ear and babbling as her eyes fixated on her mom talking on the phone at the table.

Technology use for young children can have a profound impact on cognitive, social, physical, and emotional growth. There is a mounting body of evidence that social media can have a deeply negative impact on healthy growth throughout childhood. In adolescents, increased social media use correlates to a decrease in happiness. One study found that social media use was linked to less moment-to-moment joy and less life satisfaction.

Overuse of technology can be detrimental to our physical health, disrupting our ability to sleep from excessive exposure to blue light, promoting a more sedentary lifestyle, keeping us indoors for longer periods of time where there is poorer air quality, and exposing us to rapid images that evoke complicated and often conflicting emotions.

Video games and other entertainment technology are also known to shorten our attention span and contribute to physical agitation. Using technology can increase dopamine which resides in the reward center of the brain, so it can lead to addiction similar to dependence on sugar, alcohol, or drugs.

The impact of engaging with media that focus on developmentally inappropriate themes, particularly violent ones, exposes children to concepts and topics they are unable to integrate into their lives without cognitive dissonance and questions that can be difficult to form into words. This often shows up on our playgrounds when children play out these themes with peers, which are prescripted (not from their imagination). Such play tends to have rules, in the sense that the characters must be reflective of the characters they “know” and the plot needs to follow what they “know” from the screen, which results in frustration for the child initiating the play and a feeling of exclusion for the child who is not familiar with the show or video game.

Our concerns about the pervasiveness of technology in the lives of our children do not diminish how technology benefits and enriches our lives. Technology keeps us connected in ways not possible during other times in human history. It has saved lives, improved efficiencies, and improved communication. Technology allows us to work remotely, which can have a positive impact on our carbon footprint and make us more available to our families. Less time commuting is more time to exercise, meditate, and take care of our families. Children with learning differences and/or little-to-no adult support at home can greatly benefit from thoughtful, research-based learning platforms, which include powerful social-emotional learning as well.

On Friday, March 3, 2023, we celebrated the Day of Reading and Unplug Day on campus. We went completely “dark” from the computer, internet, and cellphone use for the day, in order to spend more time reading (old-school style). This was an opportunity to reflect on all the ways technology contributes to and detracts from our lives.

Review Oak Grove’s Technology Policy here.