Swap screens for swings this summer
By LPR Staff
It’s a rare, fine day the Internet is not trending with a joke, comic or video focusing on folks “Of a Certain Age” being taught by their children or their grandchildren how to use an electronic device. Entire websites are dedicated to wacky miscommunications caused by auto-correct, user error and a genera
l fear or misunderstanding of technology.
In most cases, the “punch line” of each of these jokes and anecdotes centers around a child, elementary age or younger, teaching their elder what’s what. It has become more and more commonplace to see children, younger and younger, as attached to their electronic devices as one might expect a New York City businessman to be.
According to research recently presented to the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, that may not be a good thing. Indeed, the study found that increased “screen time” for children age 2 and under, each additional 30 minutes of screen time could cause increased delays in expressive speech delay, up to a 49 percent increase, in some cases.
“Handheld devices are everywhere these days,” said Dr. Catherine Birken, the study’s principal investigator and a staff pediatrician at The Hospital for Sick Children, a teaching, research and treatment hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto. “… The use of smartphones and tablets with young children has become quite common. This is the first study to report an association between handheld screen time and increased risk of expressive language delay.”
Birken did note more research is required to determine the exact correlations between time, content and educational delay, but said the results do support a recent recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics to limit, if not eliminate, screen time in children under 18 months old.
“Every parent is going to need a device at some moment, a screen or a device, a tablet, with their child at some point,” said Carlyn Kolker in a recent interview with CNN. “It’s just going to happen at some point, and you can do that without some level of guilt, but I think you need to know that those are effectively to help yourself in a down moment, but they aren’t tools that are really going to help your child.”
Kolker, who co-authored “Time to Talk: What You Need to Know About Your Child’s Speech and Language Development” with speech language pathologist Michelle MacRay-Higgins earlier this year, has done extensive research into the ways speech develops in young children.
“[Devices] are everywhere, and we can’t ignore that fact,” she said in the interview. “I think what this study shows is how much we really need to delve into what effects they’re having on children and how a parent, while we may have them and while they may be there, we need to know exactly how we can regulate them.”
Birken’s study examined nearly 900 children aged 2 and under. The study looked at if and how children used words together, how many words used, and other verbal and non-verbal clues the children used for expression. It also examined how much “screen time” each child had – with the average hovering around 28 minutes per day.
“When kids can’t express themselves, they get really frustrated,” said Jenny Radesky, a University of Michigan developmental pediatrician in a recent NPR interview. “They are more likely to act out more, or use their bodies to try to communicate or use attention-seeking behaviors.”
Last year, Radesky’s lab reported that, while parents did express concern over excessive screen time, they also grappled with the idea that their children might be missing out on educational opportunities or digital literacy if that time was limited, NPR reported.
Parents should be wary of educational apps marketed for children ages 2 and under, she said, because, “… these children don’t symbolically understand what they’re seeing on a two-dimensional screen.”
Adding to the conflict is information recently released by the Brain Balance Achievement Center, which noted in many cases, as their age increases, so does their screen time, to the point that some children are logging more than 7.5 hours per day. Some studies reflect that amount of screen time inhibits right-brain development, which could lead to short attention spans and inhibited social development.
Further driving the narrative, a former Google product manager appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 in April to suggest that programmers often engage in a practice colloquially known as “brain hacking:” programming technology with a “slot machine” concept, so that sometimes, the users receive a reward for using, and other times do not. That concept, said Tristan Harris, keeps users coming back for more.
Social media applications such as Facebook, he said, are programmed specifically to be user-driven by interaction, with the initial user checking several times a day to see new likes or comments. Twitter and Instagram function in much the same way. Those programs seek to keep their users engaged by any means necessary – which in recent incarnations even includes a “streak count” that reminds the user how many days in a row they have posted, and how people are reacting.
“Kids feel like, ‘well, now I don’t want to lose my streak,’ and get… stressed about it,” Harris said. “A kid will give their password to four or five friends if they go on vacation, to make sure that someone is posting and keeping the streak going.”
He argues that the constant presence of our devices – and the apps we use them for – are weakening interpersonal relationships, and “destroying kids’ ability to focus.”
Over the summer break, experts warn that screen time could only increase, and recommend that parents take steps to curb their children’s device usage – and their own.
“Many parents turn to educational apps to feel better about screen time, but a screen is still a screen,” wrote Dr. Robert Melillo, the co-founder of Brain Balance, which offers clients a holistic, drug-free approach to addressing behavioral, social and learning difficulties in children. “To encourage traditional childhood learning, present your kids with an array of books or academic workbooks, or take them to museums.”
He also recommends enrolling children in traditional summer camps – preferably those that are strictly, or largely, screen free.
“There are many creative camps that include arts, crafts, musical theatre, dancing, or sports-oriented programs that encourage other activities,” he said.
Most importantly, he said suggested, parents need to remember to detach from their own screens – and reconnect with their children and families.