With a period of 2 years spent primarily online, the educational system has encountered new problems related to the mental and social health of children. Research shows that the increased use of technology can affect children’s literacy, critical thinking, and ability to communicate directly with people. However, technology was primarily made accessible in order to facilitate the reach of knowledge, thus, as long as it is used as a tool and not a way of living it can help children learn more. This article will refer to the general adverse effects of prolonged use of technology and ways to counter-attack them.
Recent studies have shown that the extensive use of smartphones has increased the emergence of post-traumatic symptoms in children during the pandemics. It has also aggravated the quality of sleep and memorizing capacity. Besides the use of smartphones, the online school industry has boomed in the past two years offering most children the possibility to study from the comfort of their homes as a viable alternative to the locked-down public school system. So with 39% of the US children’s population between 5 – 8 years using smartphones for an average of 64 minutes daily, according to statistics, the online schooling system has tripled the time children spend in front of a technological device, be it a computer, tablet or smartphone. The negative effects of this increased time of technological usage have been observed by parents and children immediately, translating into problems of concentration, lack of sleep, burn-out, and general stress. Not to mention the impact on the overall physical health of children which has led to obesity, cardiovascular incidences, reduction in muscle tissue, and mobility. This entire situation seems drastic for children’s mental and physical health, but with responsible guidance from parents and involvement in community activities, children can be protected from these negative effects. Below, there is a list of the negative effects which may appear due to prolong use of technology and how to avoid them happening.
Impact of technology on general health
From depression to social anxiety, children can be exposed especially via social media platforms to mental health issues. The general idealist, the picture-perfect image that social media creates can foster, as Facebook reports show, low self-esteem and increased incidences of suicide due to depression and self-worth problems. Besides this, technological gadgets function on AI algorithms that facilitate the access to internet content be it via auto-correct AI’s, auto-filling text, or simplified interface to access gadgets via one click. All these simplifications get the brain accustomed to using only a minimal percentage of its capacity. What are the exact negative effects of technology on children’s mental health and how to avoid them?
There is a psycho-analytical theory according to which children of six months reach the mirror stage. In the mirror stage, the child develops self-identity, being capable to recognize themselves in the mirror as an independent person. With the frequent use of technology from an early age, the child may lose the capability of rationalizing themselves as a person with particular traits. For example, young girls that follow celebrities’ accounts on social media may live on with the false impression that if they copy the behavior of those celebrities, they will eventually end up looking like them in the nearby future and living the luxurious life promoted on social media. These young girls may end up dressing up and posing inappropriately for their age; even more, when their bodies will follow the natural cycle of change, they might end up rejecting the natural differences that will appear between the real body and the distorted, unreal image of their body.
- Parents can take unfiltered images of their children and compliment them on their appearance;
- Educate children about the importance of privacy (body exposure and personal information publishing on social media are not safe);
- Educate children about the differences between people (diversity is positive, people should not be and look the same);
Smartphones and computer software use AIs that auto-correct or auto-fill written text. This stops children from using language correctly and reduces the brain’s capacity to make logical correlations between sounds and letters, or symbols.
- Create a classic literature reading schedule;
- Teach by example, parents should use grammatically-correct and rich vocabulary around children;
- Engage in dialogue and encourage debate with children on friendly topics;
Reduction of critical thinking
Given the fact that technology makes everything easier, children are not encouraged to use logic or mathematical thinking, therefore they won’t be capable to correlate, compare, or contrasting concepts.
- Provide interactive and physical games such as puzzles, Rubik cubes, or chess boards;
- Play entertaining mind games with your child;
- Involve your child in daily activities such as shopping or cooking (these activities require mathematical operations);
Reduction in empathy
Virtual reality games give the children the impression that their actions don’t harm other people or animals, or that if they put themselves in danger, they can always “restart” the game. This idea can encourage dangerous, risk-taking decisions for children.
- Involve children in gardening activities (this will enable them to learn how to care for, and treat gently nature. It will also make them responsible and offer them a boost of self-confidence, relaxation, and happiness seeing the plants grow);
- Involve children in voluntary work at animals’ shelters;
Low physical health
There are too many studies indicating that spending too much time on the computer or other technological devices affects muscle development and healthy body positions. Studies also indicate that technology generations suffer at a much younger age bone and muscles disease such as arthritis, cervical spine pain, spinal disc herniation, or even cardiovascular disease. Diseases that in the past appeared over 50-60 years old, now emerge at 20+ years old.
- Plan more time spent in nature, be it simple walks, hiking, or trekking;
- Enroll your children in sports activities such as wall climbing or swimming;
- Play with your children the old, outdoor games (hide and seek, jump rope, hopscotch);
All-in-all, the easiest way to counter-attack and diminish the negative impact of technology on our overall health is to reduce the time spent using technology and increase the time spent with nature and other people. Parents or grown-ups teach best by example, so if children see their parents engage in fun activities that don’t imply the use of technology, they will naturally trade technology for healthy activities.