Digital devices such as smartphones and tablets offer a world of possibilities to connect to others. But have you ever wondered how technology is influencing childhood, or if there a specific amount of screen time that is ideal for a child? We look at some interesting findings.
Firstly, it has been noted that technology can help with learning new skills. This has been advocated for by Ryan and Deci (2000) in educational research, who noted that a child’s intrinsic motivation is stimulated when they interact with digital learning, as they can demonstrate mastery over tasks, copy their parents, and gain a sense of achievement. Furthermore, it has been found that by engaging in enjoyable digital activities the child’s capacity for perseverance and task management is also improved (FutureLearn, 2016).
However, setting limits about ‘screen time’ must be considered. Julia Johnson, a child, adolescent and family psychotherapist, has mentioned that for children under the age of four, interaction on a digital device should be accompanied by an adult and never be a form of solitary entertainment, but rather involve activities that are done together, such as playing games or reading a digital book. Furthermore, the American Academy of Paediatrics has stated that a child under the age of two should not have any significant screen time at all, whilst children over the age of two should not have more than one hour a day.
As more children use these platforms, parents also need to be aware of the risks. It is perhaps noteworthy to consider how children can be guided in interacting with technology in ways that provide safety, whilst also stimulating their development. According to Helen King from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (UK), the most radical influence that the internet has had on children concerns their social wellbeing. For slightly older children, it is important to help children acquire knowledge about the dangers of the internet. Most importantly, parents need to know which social platforms their child is engaged with, and offer guidance about social-digital safety and the risks of sharing personal information.
Lastly, it is critical to encourage life outside of technology. Professor Tanya Byron, clinical psychologist in child and adolescent mental health, reminds parents that what is known about the impact of technology on the child’s developing mind, particularly neurological impacts, is not yet well researched. However, what we do know is that children require a more diverse range of life experiences. Children need to grow in areas such as fine and gross motor movement, sociability in groups, discover textures and sounds in the world, and learn about their own creativity. As such, one cannot go wrong by encouraging children to spend time outdoors, to play, socialise and learn in more traditional ways.
By Marilise Nel – Counselling Psychologist