On March 6th the Huffington Post posted a disgraceful bit of fear mongering by Cris Rowan under the title: 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12. They are pandering to insecure parents who are already at risk for over-protecting their children.
True, for optimal brain development children need full exposure to nature. They need full range of engagement with the complexity of the world. As much as possible they need to conduct their childish research on their environment—activity adults call “play.” Children need to invent games with random gangs of other children, play board games and card games, resolve conflicts, build with blocks and Legos, play with clay, paint pictures, help around the house, go on trips, participate in family meals (even if it’s no fun), do the dishes, make beds, take out the garbage, bake, argue, draw, explore, design, doodle, lolligag, stare “mindlessly” out the window, meditate, pray and sleep.
Kids should play with animals, collect firewood, plant a garden, nourish the plants, harvest the fruits of their labors, and participate with adults in the making of meals. They should build forts with living room furniture, build tree houses in the woods and go exploring, get lost and then found again.
Kids should play organized sports as well as organize their own sports. Kids should play with cars and dolls, go for walks, ride bikes, race. If the opportunity presents itself they should swim, ski, skate, ride horses. They should learn tennis, golf, chicken and mumbley peg.
Have I left anything out? I am sure I have. Please add to the list. What about playing house, or doctor or other imaginative play? Oh, yes, I almost forgot reading, researching, counting, writing, adding, subtracting, and gathering data.
If kids do 25% of these things they will be fine.
But does that mean that we should keep “technology” away from them until age 12? No. It means that we should let kids do as much of the above as possible INCLUDING technology. Rowan’s misuse of research to scare parents into keeping “technology out of the hands of kids” is blind to the obvious value we all get from technology, and grossly underestimates the genius in children.
Sure, maybe a “steady diet” of “screen time” can compromise a child’s brain development, but so can complete lack of exposure to technology until the age of 12. Her article is laced with an embarrassing number of logical faults and emotional distortions.
Summarizing nine of the 10 points, “Over-exposure to technologies” has been shown to be “associated” with executive functioning and attention deficit, cognitive delays, impaired learning and decreased ability to self-regulate, tantrums, obesity, sleep deprivation, aggression, digital dementia and various addictions. Technology overuse is “implicated as a causal factor” in rising rates of child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit, autism, bipolar disorder, psychosis and problematic child behavior. (Did she forget alcoholism?)
If Rowan had confined herself to cell phones as the title implies, she would not have gotten much of an argument from me. There are a couple of good reasons: caution about radiation and maturity. But she doesn’t, and wraps up her pseudo science review with: “There is no future for children who over-use technology.” (I kept thinking, does she include Keurigs and Cuisinarts?)
Really? Schools have had computer labs for an entire generation. Some of the most successful people today spent an inordinate amount of time on computers growing up. Today one-to-one laptop programs are becoming an industry standard, and yet the average IQ continues to grow at 3 points per decade. Screen time may not cause intelligence, but it certainly doesn’t seem to make us stupider.
(Below: Dana learns Angry Birds from his big brother, Eli)
If kids aren’t paying attention in class maybe, it is because school has become dumber as kids have gotten smarter. Maybe, their brains are telling them there are much better ways to spend their time. Put a computer in a kid’s hands, and they will probably make something of themselves; send them to school, and they have a better than 50-50 chance to come out stupid, or bad, or both.
Sure, if children are on their cell phones all day long, stay up all night texting their friends and never exercise, never engage in imaginative play, never play with other children, never get out in nature, and so on, they are at risk. If your child seems addicted to technology, don’t listen to fear mongering. Spend more energy engaging him in alternatives.