A startling 20 percent of babies in utero to two-year-olds have a television in their bedroom, according to a recent study published in the journal for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Immersed in the world of media and tech gadgets since birth, 69 percent of today’s tots ages 2 to 5 know how to use a computer mouse. Compare that number, from a worldwide study commissioned by Internet security company AVG, to only 11 percent who can tie their shoelaces.
It’s a two-pronged issue: Children are inundated with technology. They don’t know how to live without it and certainly don’t want to either. On the flip side, high-tech gadgets pose profound distractions to learning for young children and can lead to addiction among other psychological problems, according to the AAP.
But it is clear is that there is no going back. Today’s children see high-tech gadgets no different than an additional limb. If we thought our generation was tech-savvy, the next is promising to grow up more dependent, and more savvy with a new generation of tech experts.
Brenda Young Ding, a Seattle resident who worked in the technology field previously and is now an independent management consultant, understands the immense influence high-tech gadgets have on children. Her kids, Kailee, Marcus and Cannon — ages 9, 7 and 4, respectively — have been using the iPad, Kindle, computers and smartphones since they were toddlers.
Ding greatly emphasized the importance of moderation. She makes sure screens don’t replace books or unstructured play time. To manage her kids’ usage, she sets daily time limits for gadgets and doesn’t allow TV or computers in their rooms. She said her kids mainly use educational game apps on their devices.
“We have limits on how long they can play on them,” said Ding. “But I also believe that they need to have experience with technology, as technology is more and more part of our culture and is even used in schools.”
The AAP recommends parents and pediatricians monitor the entertainment media diet of children, which is estimated to average seven hours a day. It is recommended infants under two years old avoid all media, and older children should spend no more than two hours in front of a screen per day. According to the AAP, excessive media is a problem that “can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity.”
Education columnist Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post covered the technology trends among students this fall, claiming that “researchers who have tracked children’s creativity for 50 years are seeing a significant decrease in creativity among children for the first time, especially younger children from kindergarten through sixth grade.”
The decline is blamed almost entirely on children spending less time on uninterrupted play. From play, they derive imagination, problem-solving and independent thinking skills. As advanced as technology is, it will never replace human interaction and the freedom of unstructured play.
Though the Dings recognize these dangers by putting limitations on technology use, certain advantages of having tech-savvy young kids are not lost on Ding. For Ding’s children, having the ability to download entire book on an e-reader and to use an iPad for homework isn’t nearly as impressive or difficult as it is for adults.
“It seems intuitive for them,” said Ding. “They also help their grandmother use the iPad,” she said, mentioning that her kids impress her with their innate ability to use devices.
For instance, her kids learned how to group and categorize apps on the iPad on their own, and also taught her.
Cherry Cayabyab, another Seattle parent who limits the hours her child spends in front of a screen, uses current devices to help connect her son Lakas, 2, with members of his family who are out of the state.
“One evening, his cousin in Hawaii sang a lullabye to him on ukelele via FaceTime, and he loved it,” said Cayabyab.
Since he was 1, Lakas has known how to open Netflix on the iPad and iPhone and watch his favorite children shows by himself. While there are instances Lakas cries to use his gadgets over his time-limit, Cayabyab praised the “kid-friendly iPad” because it “helps develop and affirm his cognitive skills, and all the TV shows he watches are fun and educational.”
A study from Ogilvy & Mather and Communispace found that famlies with young children who use more sophisticated technology than the average family have a “more positive mindset overall and expressed less anxiety about the future.”
The majority of these parents believe their kids are on the right path and are developing critical thinking skills. Rather than dividing families, 72 percent of parents believe technology brings their family together. According to the study, these families are the most social both in and outside the technology world, and the majority high-tech families are educated Asian Americans.
In assessing high-tech gadgets, Ding considers the vast strides kids’ usage could mean for the technology industry as a whole.
“Technology is always changing — and with young minds innovating off of the most current technology, we’re always seeing change and new and interesting creations,” said Ding.
Equipped with smartphones, tablets, e-readers, laptops and other gadgets, this generation is poised with the latest tech tools to build on and innovate exponentially.