Is Technology Making Our Kids Unhealthy?
Technology is flooded with many positive aspects. Yet I’m noticing, in the last few weeks more than ever before, that it appears for every positive aspect technology can be used for, there is also a negative “flip side”. After all – if there wasn’t two sides to every story we wouldn’t be having such interesting, thought-provoking debates!
In my eyes, the benefits of technology far out weigh the negative aspects – so I pose the question… Can too much of a good thing be a bad thing?
There’s no question about it – the research showing the effects of too much screen time is extensive. As Aubrey, Jennifer, and Jayme-Lee explain in their video, “80% of communication is online”.They made a strong argument, grounded in research, about how technology impacts physical health (neck injury, increased snacking, limits physical activity), mental health (lack of sleep, aggression, depression), and our social well being (addiction, cyber bullying, relationships). The article Sneaky Ways Technology is Messing With Your Mind and Body first not only made me realize I need to quit touching my face so much, “…our phones are actually teeming with bacteria”, but also addresses many physical and mental effects that I can relate to. For example, sore eyes and headaches from too much screen time, sore neck and back from hours of report card typing and don’t even get me started about the “text claw” from scrolling 5 minutes too long. I try to spend the minutes leading up to bed either on my yoga mat or reading a book in order to get a solid nights sleep and wake up feeling refreshed. However, it always seems very counterproductive when my partner insists on falling asleep to the TV. Now I too am conditioned to falling asleep along with the late night talk shows and pay for it in the morning when I can’t seem to get out of bed. In the article, Trouble Sleeping – Maybe It’s Your iPad Phyllis Zee, a neuroscience professor at Northwestern University claims “…if you’re using [the iPad or a laptop] close to bedtime that light can be sufficiently stimulating to the brain to make it more awake and delay your ability to sleep.”
Photo Credit: r.nial.bradshaw via Compfight cc
Although I can’t deny the enormous amount of evidence proving too much technology can affect our health, I would like to play devil’s advocate and stress that many of these things listed above are preventable and based on the choices one makes. It is technology itself creating obesity in children? Or is it simply the decisions made around how technology is being used? I believe our choices in how we use technology play a huge role. If I choose to use my phone before bed and fall asleep with the T.V on, I pay for it the next morning. Sneaky Ways Technology is Messing With Your Mind and Body also draws attention to the fact that “excessive social media use may increase our stress levels”. However, again I can choose not to spend hours on end using social media and reduce the amount of stress and anxiety that stems from using technology.
But what about those times I need to meet a deadline? Those times where the luxury of choice is not an option. I can relate to Heidi Warren‘s most recent blog post as she states “Sometimes I look at the notification bell and open my email to all the post notifications and just feel overwhelmed. Wondering where to start and how to tackle the constant flow of new information.” It can become overwhelming and it’s not surprise people feel the need to spend hours online “catching up”. I was once the the type of person that unfortunately wouldn’t stop working on a project I started until it was finished (not the way to create a balanced lifestyle by the way). My instinct is still this way, but I’ve learned to make better choices – just as one might have the desire to play video games for days on end until they pass the game. You can imagine why my first experience with starting a Twitter account was overwhelming because I felt the need to keep up – but “keeping up” with every post isn’t and was never the point. Realigning our thoughts and goals around technology use is crucial to avoid the painful consequences addressed by the agree side during Tuesday’s debate.
I understand that sometimes it’s not a choice and many people working desk jobs don’t have the choice. The reading Determining the Effects of Technology on Children claims “60% of jobs today require technological skills, and this is expected to increase to ninety percent in the next fifty years.” Technology becoming a large part of our day, if it isn’t already, a reality. Technology doesn’t automatically correlate to unhealthy lifestyles. I think it’s important to learn how to create balance in our lives if technology plays a major role in your day.
Unfortunately, children don’t always have the same ability to make such wise choices, especially without really understanding the all of the research and effects to their health that we understand as adults. Just try taking an iPhone away from a 3 year old and you will see what I mean. I feel children should be able to use technology in healthy ways but boundaries should be established. If children don’t have any boundaries and choose to use technology for hours on end everyday, I agree technology likely is making these kids, but not necessarily all kids, unhealthy. The article Obesity in Children and Technology claims that “the average child spends upwards of seven hours watching television, browsing the internet and playing video games each day.” Yikes!! What happened to the great outdoors? Not only do I feel we should educate children about safe ways to use technology, but just as importantly teach the benefits of an active lifestyle. We shouldn’t feel the need to overact and ban technology from our classrooms or homes, but rather by advocate for an increase of physical activity for students at home and school while leading by example.
In perhaps my only claim to fame, Saskatchewan In Motion‘s School Advocacy video also addresses the issue of obesity in children. “Less than 15% of kids are getting the physical activity they need and on average Canadian youth are sedentary for over 8 waking hours each day.” To blame this solely on technology alone is a bit of a stretch in my eyes, although it certainly may be a contributing factor in many situations.
Despite it’s effects when used excessively, we can’t ignore the amazing things technology does for us. It helps us stay connected, and we can seek help for any situation where a supportive community or information is needed including depression, anxiety or bullying. Apps and devices like Fitbit and Runkeeper, to name just a few, keep us motivated to stay active and perhaps reduce the amount of screen time in our lives as a result.
The article Researchers: Forget Internet Abstinence; Teens Need Some Online Risk brings up an interesting point about allowing kids to experience small online risk and learn how to handle situations on a smaller scale to prevent larger online risks. I feel this relates to the increased controversy of schools banning WiFi. Technology isn’t something we should be “protecting” our kids from, but rather using it as an opportunity to learn about issues they want more information on, and address issues like cyber bullying head on. We can’t shield kids from technology for their entire lives in order to avoid online problems, but we can educate them on internet safety while introducing them to the amazing opportunities that can come from using it.
In the article titled Determining the Effects of Technology on Children, Sherry Turkle states “naming technology as either good or bad will not solve the issue. … computers are not good or bad – they’re powerful. I think we’re getting ourselves in a lot of trouble thinking there’s an Internet or a web that has an impact on children.” There’s many good things I feel would be great in excess – love, laughter, friendship and of course- puppies. However, when it comes down to technology, I believe too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. I agree with Ian Temple‘s statement that we need to “… make sure that the benefit outweighs the harm” when it comes down to technology. The key thing is recognizing where the fine line between good (appropriate use of tech) and bad (over use of tech) is, before the blessing of technology becomes a burden on your life.