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The Dark Side of Smart Devices

I love technology, I love my smart phone, and I love my computer. In fact, I’m probably more addicted to them than my boys are. And while I love all my smart devices and think they are the best inventions since sliced bread, I do agree that we need to find an optimal balance in the use of technology. Just because our children can learn so much more through the technology they use doesn’t mean we can allow them to go “no holds barred”. Too much of anything, even good things, can sometimes be a really bad thing. So how bad is bad?

Smart Devices Mess with Your Sleep

Recently, there was an article in Scientific American on how use of smartphones (which actually included smart devices and computers) before bed messes with your brain and your sleep.

In my anecdotal study of one, I can’t say that using the computer or my phone before going to bed has ever had any effect on my ability to fall right to sleep, then again, I must admit that I am usually sleep deprived so falling asleep has always been easy for me. That said, we still have a restriction for the boys – no playing devices before bedtime and definitely no access to screens in the bedroom (especially when we know all the problems that lack of sleep can lead to).

Sleeping near a small screen, sleeping with a TV in the room, and more screen time were associated with shorter sleep durations. Presence of a small screen, but not a TV, in the sleep environment and screen time were associated with perceived insufficient rest or sleep. These findings caution against unrestricted screen access in children’s bedrooms. – Pediatrics, 2015


Toddler iPad Addiction Requires Therapy

Okay, this one is just ridiculous so I’m just going to refer you back to a response I wrote some time back: What do you mean kids are addicted to their iPad and require therapy? Honestly, too much of anything equals addiction and most of the time, it’s just a matter of being sensible in the first place. I’m sure I’m not the only one raising eyebrows when I hear that a 3 year old is so addicted to the iPad that the only thing a parent can do is send that child to a therapist. I mean, really? Where’s the parent in all of this?

Too Much iPad Causes ADHD

The premise behind this argument lies in the fact that ADHD is on the rise and technology use is also on the rise. Well, correlation does not equal causation. If you need an example, just check out these 10 bizarre correlationsThe article examining the relationship between ADHD and use of smart devices also says as much:

children, on average, spend nearly seven and a half hours each day staring at those tiny displays, up 20 percent from just five years ago, leading some experts to believe the surge of ADHD diagnosis coincides with the skyrocketing use of mobile devices…

To be clear, these findings are correlations, and not causal links.

Then again, I’m also of the opinion that we may be overdiagnosis ADHD and that we need to be more cautious before we start dispensing drugs that have side effects like addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis to children.

Excessive Screen Time Interferes with Normal Child Development

This is the real concern that I have with technology. Children, especially the younger ones that are still learning their place in the world and how to navigate through the choppy waters of social interactions, are especially in danger of excessive screen use.

“If kids are allowed to play ‘Candy Crush’ on the way to school, the car ride will be quiet, but that’s not what kids need,” Dr. Steiner-Adair said in an interview. “They need time to daydream, deal with anxieties, process their thoughts and share them with parents, who can provide reassurance.” – NY Times

More than that, they also need time to interact with each other so they can learn conflict resolution and how to get along with others in the real world. This is one of the problems I highlighted in “First World Problems with the iPad Generation“. It is easier to hand the kids an iPad, or to plonk them down in front of the idiot box, and let the electronic babysitter keep the kids quiet so we can have our moments of peace. But while it keeps the peace and harmony in the house, it is doing a disservice to our children because they are being robbed of precious opportunities to learn things like how to get along with the annoying younger sister, or that bossy older brother. They don’t have the opportunities to collaborate on made-up games and activities they work on together. These are interactions that children need time to practice – time they won’t have if they are too busy living in their isolated technology bubbles.

Conflict isn’t just important for children – it’s important all through our lives. Even the most loving of husbands and wives go through conflict as they learn to live together, overcoming those little idiosyncrasies that seemed cute during the dating stage but intolerable once married. Those who learn to work through the conflict come away stronger than ever.

Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues

  • Preteens spent five days in a nature camp without access to screens and were compared to controls.
  • Both groups took pre- and post-tests regarding nonverbal emotional cues.
  • The experimental group’s recognition of cues improved significantly over the control.
  • Time away from screen media, with increased social interaction, may improve comprehension of nonverbal emotional cues.

Given that a pre-requisite for effective socialization is learning and practicing how to communicate with others in person, face-to-face experiences must be emphasized in the socialization process. While digital media provide many useful ways to communicate and learn, our study suggests that skills in reading human emotion may be diminished when children’s face-to-face interaction is displaced by technologically mediated communication.

Computers in Human Behavior, 2014

The Real Screen Addiction

I may have scoffed at the idea of toddlers being addicted to screens because that’s not the real issue at hand. The real danger of screen addiction is our own. Have you ever turned on your phone for a specific purpose but got side-tracked by the myriad of distractions on your phone until you no longer remembered the original purpose for picking up your phone?

I was at the fridge when I realised we were out of milk. I picked up my phone to add “milk” to my shopping list when I noticed I had a message from my best friend. “Check this out!” She messaged with a link to an article. I read the article, then checked my other messages. Then my email. Then I took a quick look at facebook to see what was new. By the time I was done, I vaguely remembered wanting to do something with my phone but I couldn’t remember what. I put down the phone and went back to the fridge to finish making my coffee and remembered again that we had no milk.

The urge to pick up that smart phone has become an such unconscious nervous tick that we don’t even realise the habit until we keep finding our hands reaching for the phone like a toddler reaching for the comfort of her safety blanket.

Technology Multi-tasking and the Brain Drain

We know that multi-tasking is bad. Among other things, it reduces our concentration and impairs memory formation. When we’re constantly multi-tasking between our smart phones and daily life, it is no wonder the Mom Brain grows worse and never seems to recover.

Technology and the Great Divide

But that’s not all… Technology is also affecting our relationships with our children. In a survey by online security company AVG Technologies, 54% of children felt their parents checked their devices too often, while 32% of children felt unimportant when their parents get distracted by their smart phones. So it seems it’s not just our children whose social development is being impacted by technology, but ours, too.

Image Source: HuffPost Parents

As much as I still love my devices, I guess a little separation time might be in order.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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