The amount of time children spend using media technology today, including computers, cell phones, video games and MP3 players among others, is setting off alarms. The fear is not only that this technology is replacing traditional children’s activities, but that it also may be diminishing social-interaction skills, the ability to relate to the world around them and their empathy for others.
Media Technology: Hidden Costs
Despite the many advantages of today’s broad range of media technology, studies in recent years show that all of this technology may have a higher price tag than we imagined, especially among children.
Children and teens between ages 8 and 18 spend an average of seven hours and 38 minutes daily playing video games, going online and watching TV, and most have no household rules governing how much time they’re allowed to spend doing these things, according to the 2010 study, Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Factor in time spent eating, sleeping and attending school during the week, and little time is left for anything else – playing outside or at the playground with other children, participating in athletics, socializing with friends and family or engaging in after-school and weekend activities.
“Technology is good and it can help our lives. … Yet, perhaps most important of all is to remember that we are not only a technological species, but one that came of age through deep and intimate daily contact with other humans and with an embodied, physical, natural and often wild world – and that we still need that world to flourish as a species,” wrote Peter H. Kahn Jr., and Nathan G. Freier in the article, The Fast-Paced Change of Children’s Technological Environments.
Numerous organizations conduct ongoing assessments of the impact intense exposure to media technology is having on today’s children, among them the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Although the authors of the study, which was published in January 2010, said they could not establish a firm correlation between media use and students’ grades, they reported: “About half … of heavy media users say they usually get fair or poor grades (mostly Cs or lower), compared to about a quarter … of light users. These differences may or may not be influenced by their media-use patterns.”
The Kaiser study also noted that a little under a third of young people surveyed said they had rules for how much time they could spend watching TV or playing video games. A little over a third said they had rules about the time they could be on the computer. “But when parents do set limits,” the study said, “children spend less time with media: Those with any media rules consume nearly three hours less media per day … than those with no rules.”
Studies over the past decade have concluded that a large number of adolescents and teens today are having difficulty identifying emotions in people, thus an inability to feel empathy toward others who may be feeling pain, sorrow, anger and other emotions. There is concern excessive viewing of real or contrived violence online, playing video games that are violent or contain other age-inappropriate content could be numbing the sensitivities of young people, immunizing them from experiencing compassion and caring for others.
Even those with the greatest concern over how media technology may be affecting children agree it is a permanent part of our lives. They believe we can learn to embrace its advantages, reduce its adverse effects and raise children who can use this technology and still relate to others, appreciate and participate in the beauty and wonders of nature and grow up to be healthy well-rounded caring and compassionate people.
Technology and Children
The question for parents and teachers is not whether a child should be exposed to technology, but rather whether any particular technology expands or diminishes a child’s imagination.
The imagination does not need technology to dream an exotic garden or to create a symphony of rainbows – or to invent new technologies.