When you ask most young adults about their childhood, they can illustrate a clear example of what those treasured early years looked like for them. Playing outdoors, making new friends in the neighborhood, going on spontaneous adventures, and trekking home happily exhausted at sunset. But when I spend any time with my son or my students (aged 2-8), the only thing they want to do is use their technological devices. More than a few minutes without Wi-Fi is their definition of torture. There is no doubt that technology plays a significant role in our lives but it is also true that in today’s times; talking especially about children, are more engrossed in social media via technology. Concerns over children’s media and technology usage have risen over the past decade. Some researchers have gone so far as to call society’s current technological trends “the death of childhood.” Though such rhetoric is harsh, the growing unease is not without merit: very young children (two and under) are not mentally or cognitively capable of handling the demands of popular technology. In fact, excessive television exposure can adversely impact their early language development. And dangers persist for all ages — older children and teens’ lower impulse control makes them more susceptible to the addictive quality of apps and social media.
The constant stream of new, exciting information stimulates the brain’s reward center in a manner similar to psychological classifications of addiction. According to Common Sense Media, 50% of teens readily admit to feeling addicted to their devices, citing an immediate need to respond to notifications or texts. Even as adults, we can’t go for too long without itching to check our devices at the risk of whatever other task is at hand (including a face-to-face conversation). We’re all guilty of it, and as we shift life phases into adulthood, children are only mirroring the norm as their access to devices grows. It’s become commonplace to see kids glued to a screen and staying indoors where the Internet and electricity are easily accessed.
Furthermore, social media (and therefore my access to anything immoral) in my adolescent days were limited just to Facebook. Kids of today are faced with several options that offer little filtering beyond one’s own interests. Now when I come across anything negative, graphic, or otherwise sensitive on the many platforms of today, I struggle to think of how I would’ve handled the content as a naïve pre-teen. Teen girls in particular are at higher risk for anxiety and depression as their social media use grows. Seeing how much better your peers are doing, all the time can create a comparison trap and a constant fear of missing out that even I struggle with as a young adult.
What, then, can or should be done? Is it time to turn off the wifi, bring out the board games, and get rid of all the gadgets? Not quite. Though there are obvious risks to children’s increasing access to technology, the academic and social demands of today make it more or less a necessary evil. Regardless of parental restrictions, children will have access to technology through school, friends, and other indirect means. As a result, it is up to parents and educators to guide them through the fast-paced, high-tech world in which they are growing up. This is where digital literacy for children comes in: a new type of literacy that includes concepts like privacy protection and understanding the impact of our media interactions on others. It serves as a springboard for parents to have important conversations with their children about what they’re doing online and to set boundaries that go beyond screen time.
Parental guidance should begin as soon as children are exposed to technology. The involvement of their parents was discovered to be the most important factor in examining the effectiveness of learning apps for 3- to 7-year-olds. Adults can help explain what children don’t understand, expand on what they do, and essentially act as gatekeepers determining what, when, and how much media their children consume. Though this becomes more difficult as children grow older, involvement also includes providing a safe space for exploration.