Handheld technology the new norm for children

Nov 2, 2015 | News

By Evan Presement

Virtually all children under the age of four have used a mobile device at one point or another, according to a report published in the American Academy of Paediatrics journal.

The report, which said that smartphones, computers, tablets, TVs, and gaming consoles were the main culprits, advises that this sort of technological contact should be completely eliminated for children two and under.

The study, which was lead by Dr. Hilda Kabali, studied 350 low-income Philadelphia children aged six months to four-years-old. She found that almost every child in the study has had access and exposure to mobile devices.

“There are hints that excessive media use can lead to attention issues, school difficulties, sleep disorders, abnormal eating habits, and obesity,” said Dan Flanders, owner and executive director of Kindercare Pediatrics in Toronto. “Concern has also been expressed that [media consumption] can enable risky behaviors.”

According to Flanders, risky behaviors may include early and/or risky sexual activity, substance abuse, and cyber bullying.

This isn’t the first time concern regarding technology and developing brains has surfaced. In 2011, Seattle Children Hospital’s director for child health Dimitri Christakis delivered a TED talk on the issue.

“The typical newborn brain is 333 grams, and in the first two years of life, it actually triples in size,” he said. “ It’s an extraordinary period of brain growth, unparalleled over the life course.”

Christakis, who studied the effect of technology on the developing brain, said while little stimulation early on is bad for a young child, overstimulation is just as harmful.

According to Christakis, in the 1970s, the average child started watching television at the age of four. Today, they start as early as four months.

“Numerous studies have shown that children learn better from real-life experiences than screen time, especially activities that involve moving and doing,” the report from the American Academy of Pediatrics said. “It has been estimated that the average 12-month-old is exposed to up to 2 hours of screen time a day.”

From the research Christakis has done, some interesting statistics have emerged:

– The typical child before the age of five is watching about 4.5 hours of television per day. That represents as much as 40% of their waking hours.

– For each hour of television kids under three-years-old watched, their chances of behavioural problems at school increased 10%. On the other hand, each hour of cognitive stimulation decreased those chances by about 30%.

– When viewed from ages 0-3, fast paced, quick cutting content increased attention issues by 60%.

While work is constantly being done on the problem, according to Flanders, we don’t have enough information just yet.

“Technology use by kids as we know it is only about five-years-old, and science takes a lot longer than that to keep up,” he said. “Technology has evolved so rapidly.”

Despite the shortage of research that has been done, in his TED talk, Christakis sounded optimistic.

“If we can change the beginning of the story, we can change the whole story.”