How have children become conditioned toward overstimulation and instant gratification? One of the major sources is overuse of technology like cell phones, TV’s, tablets, video games…the list goes on and on. Children exposure to technology is beginning earlier and earlier, and some children may be developing a dependence on these devices. I used to see toddlers walking around holding tightly onto their favorite blanky or stuffed animal, and now it seems more common to see them clenching their parent’s phone or tablet for dear life. In no way am I saying technology is all bad or even damaging to children, however, it could be if not used in moderation. “Everything in moderation” is a helpful mantra that can be applied to children’s use of technology. When children spend too much time sitting in front of screens, it can have negative impacts on their life. Interacting only with a screen, takes away from engaging with peers and family, and therefore, can affect social skills and peer interactions. Practice makes perfect, and when children are too wrapped up in the latest app on the phone they miss out on social learning opportunities that can lead to underdeveloped social skills.
Childhood obesity is another major concern that can be linked to the overuse of technology. Changing the nutritional value of the breakfasts and lunches served in schools is not enough to truly impact childhood obesity. It is important to change behavior too. This means interacting with your children and playing a game of basketball or riding bikes together. Explore activities your child enjoys. Also, encourage them to engage in outdoor activities with friends in the neighborhood or set up play dates at a park. It is important for parents to be an active part of their children’s lives, which includes promoting healthy behaviors and routines as well as setting good examples for our children to follow. For example, if I am telling my 9 year old that she needs to spend less time watching television, and more time outside interacting with her peers in the neighborhood, but then I spend most of my days shut inside on the couch watching T.V. or playing on my phone, what type of message is this sending? Inconsistent messages produce inconsistent behaviors. We are not required to be perfect as parents, and we as adults should have freedom to do what we want; however, it is important to set a good example and to not just say, but SHOW our children the benefits of practicing healthy behaviors.
Instead of occupying the kids with technological devices so parents can have some down time, insist they pick up a book or play with the toys in their room. All children have an imagination, but if they do not utilize it enough it will not be as developed, and children might lack abilities to be creative in the future. Youth must be encouraged to engage in solo play and pretend. Teaching children to entertain themselves is not only a huge benefit to them, but it gives parents extra time to handle personal tasks.
Another large part of moderating time with technology is to help children stimulate their brains in different ways. Different activities such as exercise, reading, or imaginative play will stimulate different areas of the brain. If children spend too much time with their technological devices, they will not be able to exercise other areas in the brain that need attention and stimulation, especially throughout early development. It would be like going to the gym everyday and only doing curls with your right arm. It does not exactly seem like a wise decision, especially if we are looking to improve our overall physical health. The entire brain needs to be worked out as well, and this can only be accomplished by using different senses, sources of activity, and cognitive stimulation. To achieve a strong and healthy brain, parents must make sure their children are maximizing their brain workout and not spending an excessive amount of time in front of various screens.
Technology can be extremely helpful and informative, and it can also over stimulate young children with the constant bombardment of movements, sounds, and bright images flashing in their faces. Because of this constant stimulation, real life (which tends to move at a slower pace) is seen by children as boring and dull. Additionally, there are devices and apps where children can skip straight to their show and watch them whenever and wherever they want (with no commercials), which contributes to the instant gratification factor. This factor, in addition to overuse of technology, could influence young minds and train their brains to consistently crave the constant entertainment/stimulation technology provides. This expectation can take away from developing positive characteristics like patience and self-control. There are many ways to avoid the overuse of technology, but parents and children must be committed to retraining their brains and behaviors to increase their “mental strength.” Create a Healthy Foundation!
Guest Blogger, Rebecca Prolic, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist-Associate and the owner of Healthy Foundations located in Houston, Texas.