A stigma has developed over the past couple decades regarding technology’s role in kids’ lives. Specifically, about how mobile devices, TVs, computers, and video game systems allegedly negatively affect the development of young children. A lot of misinformation has been thrown out there from both sides, so I’m here to settle the debate. Is technology bad for kids? Short answer: It absolutely can be, but only under certain circumstances. Let’s take a look at research that has been done to determine technology’s effects on the development of children and what can be done to prevent negative side effects.
Let’s first look at some research that displays the negative side effects of placing technology into the hands of kids. A study done by UCLA in 2014 provides evidence to support the claim that the ability for a kid to recognize other’s emotions is impacted by their technology use. Essentially, researchers placed two groups of middle schoolers (each group had about 50 kids) into different summer camps. One where they could not use TVs, handheld devices, video game systems, and other technological devices. Within the other, they could use all these things. Before they were shipped off to these camps, all of the kids were shown 50 images of people’s faces and they were asked to identify the emotion each person was feeling. Then after they came back from the camps, they were asked to do the same thing. According to the study, the kid’s nonverbal cues improved significantly for the group that had no access to technology, whereas the group that had access had no improvements. What does that mean? One could conclude that the use of technology reduces a kid’s ability to recognize another person’s emotions, which could make them less empathetic towards others. However, I personally have a problem with this study. The kids were only isolated in these groups for five days, so I would like to see the same thing repeated over a larger period of time, as there would probably be less confounding variables.
Jim Taylor, a professor at the University of San Francisco, has done research that suggests that playing video games and looking at screens can actually change the way a brain is wired. He says that, “Attention has been found to be a highly malleable quality and most directly influenced by the environment in which it is used.” He argues that studies have shown that reading information helps us better understand the information better than having it presented to us visually or audibly. He also links decreased attention span, imagination, and memory to the use of the Internet and the playing of video games. This claim can be supported through a separate study done by Susan Haugland in 1992 which found that kids that used non-education software on a computer could have their creativity levels drop by over fifty percent.
But there are always two sides to a story. Of course, other research has shown that there are positive effects of technology on children’s development. Research done by those at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, suggests that young children who play video games are more likely to be intelligent and do better in school than those who do not. They also found that those who played more video games tended to have fewer issues with other students. However, there is never any information given regarding the sample size and we cannot assume that correlation means causation. Just because smart kids play video games does not mean that video games caused the kids to be smart. It could be the opposite, maybe smart kids just happen to be more interested in video games. We cannot be sure based off of this study, thus we must be cautious when assuming its results.
Another study was done by David Bergin, Martin Ford, and Robert Hess in 1993 found that very young children are much more interested in learning through the use of a computer and that they tended to remain “on-task” a higher percentage of the time compared to children who learned information traditionally. Essentially, this study showed that it is easier to make learning fun using technology rather than just through oral lecture or reading. If kids are more interested, then of course they will spend more time focused on that specific task.
So what have we learned? Well, it seems that using computer programs to aid in learning can boost a young child’s interest in a topic, and their ability to comprehend what they are learning. However, based on evidence it looks like every other use of technology can hinder a child’s ability to develop. As seen in some of the studies above, it appears that using technology can cause a child’s attention span to be shortened and for their ability to recognize other’s emotions to be diminished. This clearly is concerning, as people must have good social skills and the ability to focus as they develop into an adult and are exposed to the real world. Therefore, it is probably best that we limit children’s use of technological devices that aren’t used for education. Of course, playing video games and using technology can be a form of stress relief, so maybe allowing children to play video games or watch TV for a short period of time is not the worst possible thing they could be doing. Maybe our parents really were right when they told us to stop playing video games all the time….