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The Lasting Impact of Technology on Kids

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Abstract

Technology has many good benefits in adults and children. However, there are quite a number of negative consequences, ones that may outweigh the good, such as obesity, access to sexual materials, low self-esteem, and attention deficit disorder. Parents need to be aware of these in order to better the quality of life for their children. This research paper looks at the effects that technology has on children, the long term consequences of these effects, and gives solutions on how to avoid these effects.

The Health Effects of Technology on Children and Their Long Term Effects

According to Pew Research (2014), 78 percent of teenagers age 12-17 own a mobile phone, 80 percent own a computer, 94 percent have a Facebook profile, and 95 percent have access to the internet (“Teen Fact Sheet”). This means that a large number of children have access to and are affected by technology. Although technology can be beneficial to both children and adults, it has more than its fair share of harmful effects. This paper looks into the wide array of negative health effects caused by technology by asking the following questions:

  1. What are the physical effects of technology on children?
  2. How are children affected mentally, emotionally, and socially by technology?
  3. What are the long term consequences of some of these effects?
  4. What can be done to avoid these effects and long term consequences of technology?

Understanding the negative mental and physical health effects of technology on children can better prepare and inform parents on how to protect their children.

What Are the Physical Effects of Technology on Children?

Although technology has some positive physical effects, especially in fitness, when combined with inactivity, technology is quite harmful. An example of this is television. According to a study conducted by the Division of Nutrition and Health of the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico, “obesity risk decreased by 10 percent for each hour per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, and increased by 12 percent for each hour per day of television viewing” (Ebbeling, Pawlak, & Ludwig, 2002, p. 475). There is a strong correlation between heavy television viewing and health problems that include: hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and an increased prevalence of asthma (Strasburger, Jordan, & Donnerstein, 2010, pp. 761-762). The increase of obesity can be attributed to the number of commercials for unhealthy food presented on television as well. According to Strasburger et al. (2010), “Children and teenagers see 4400-7600 ads per year for junk food and fast food on television alone”(p.761). That equates to between 12 and 20 ads per day. Those advertisements have been shown to influence children’s preferences and encourage them to believe that junk food is a normal, everyday thing. (Robinson, Borzekowski, Matheson, & Kraemer, 2007, Results section, para. 3).

The overuse of technology is also associated with visual problems. Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), is described by the American Optometric Association (n.d) as a “group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer use” (para. 1). CVS is found in both adults and children, and is not limited to just computer use. It can also be the result of overuse of video games, television, and cell phones. Symptoms of CVS include blurred distance vision, eyestrain, and dry eyes. With neglect, the symptoms can worsen and become more of a nuisance.

Despite the negative health impacts caused by technology, there are still a few positive physical impacts. When dealing with child safety, Campbell (2005) argues that “the mobile phone means thus both enabling the child to call parents if they are in trouble, but also provides a surveillance capacity of parents phoning young people”(p. 6). Parents are able to know where their children are at all times, deliver urgent messages, and have the comfort of knowing that if their child is safe, and if they were to be in trouble, they’ll be able to call for help. Children are able to contact their parents in a matter of seconds in an emergency, as well as arrange meeting places in a quicker and more reliable way. However, technology can also be harmful in a sense of child safety and privacy. According to Madden et al. (2013), 91 percent of teen social media users post a photo of themselves, something that could make them a target to a predator. A lot of contact information is also posted publicly as well. 71 percent of teen social media users post their school name, 71 percent post the city or town that they live in, 53 percent post their email address, and 20 percent post their cell phone number. Most of this information posted is accessible to the public, meaning anyone, even a child predator, can see this information, by looking at a teenager’s social media profile.

There are also a few fitness applications for smartphones and tablets, which include: NFL Play 60, Kid’s Fitness, and Awesome Eating. These applications are either directed towards physical activity, or towards healthy eating. However, according to Google Play (2014), of these applications, each has only 1,000 to 5,000 downloads, whereas more popular apps among children, such as Facebook, used by 94 percent of teenagers (“Teen Fact Sheet”), has over 1 to 5 billion downloads, and popular fitness application Nike has over 10 million downloads.

Technology also allows children to view things that are age inappropriate. In a survey introduced by Strasburg et al. (2010), nearly half of a group of 1500 10 to 17 year-olds had been exposed to online pornography in the past year. Television shows geared towards children have more sexual content that adult-oriented shows (760). These are things that parents should not be wanting their children to see, or at least should have a conversation about these things with their children. According to Strasburg et al. (2010), the portrayal of sexual relationships on television gives adolescents the notion that sex is normative and risk free, and that things such as contraceptives are not important. Access to technology also leaves the possibility of sending sexually explicit pictures. According to a national survey conducted with 13 to 19 year-olds, 20 percent had sent and 48 percent had received sexual messages (Strasburg et al. 2010, p. 761).

How Are Children Affected Mentally, Emotionally, and Socially by Technology?

Early childhood is a time for crucial and rapid brain development. Many early life experiences will affect your responses throughout life (Kolb, 2009, para. 2). So what happens when a child is exposed to too much media at an early age? According to Strasburger et al. (2010), studies have shown that there is a “possibility of language delays among infants exposed to excessive television or videos” (p. 761). Another correlation is found, where watching over two hours a day of television per day “in early childhood has been linked with attention disorder (ADD) during the early school years” (p. 761).

Technology isn’t all bad for early development. According to Taylor (2012), video games and other screen media improves visual-spatial capabilities, and reaction times. Also through media, children and teenagers can learn tolerance towards people of other races and ethnicities. Important public messages can be embedded in television programs as well, getting educational messages across in a way that children will pay attention to (Strasburger et al. 2010, p. 762).

On a social and emotional level, technology aids in communication with peers (Campbell 2005, p. 4), allowing teens communicate and interact with one another, at any time of the day, along with assisting in the organization of their plans. It also allows teens to express what their interests are, such as music, art, and magazines (Hutchby & Moran-Ellis, 2013, chap. 2). Children and teens are able to communicate with their peers at any time of the day. However, there are drawbacks to this ability of 24/7 communication, especially when it comes to bullying. By changing the way children can communicate with one another, bullying is now present in a new environment. Cyberbullying, which is defined as online harassment that is repeated over time (Lenhart 2010). Between 10 percent and 33 percent of teens are being bullied online, and 26 percent report being bullied through text message or phone call. With the ability to remain anonymous while bullying through text message, phone call, or the internet, a child may never know who the one tormenting them is.

Technology has indirect effects on the emotional health of children and teenagers. According to Must and Strauss (1999), childhood obesity can have lasting effects on self-esteem and body image (p. 3), and according to the Harvard School of Public Health (n.d), people who are obese are more likely to have depression than people with normal weights. Since technology is a major factor in childhood obesity, it can partially be blamed for this. Teens who are bullied have higher levels of substance abuse, depression, school avoidance, and may become bullies themselves (Lenhart, 2010), thus possibly ruining their futures.

What Are the Long Term Consequences of Some of These Effects?

Childhood obesity is a life-long health risk. Obesity has severe effects on a person’s quality of life and wellbeing. According to the Harvard School of Public Health (n.d), men are obese have a sevenfold higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and women have a 12-fold higher risk, when compared to those of the same gender who were in the normal weight range. Obesity also affects the economy, costing the United States $190 billion every year.

There are studies that explore the negative effects that attention deficit disorders (ADD) have on children. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, ADD can cause children to be slow in processing information, be disorganized, have trouble completing homework, and struggle to follow instructions. All of these symptoms can lead to struggling in school. Although there are medications to treat ADD, they still have their share of side effects, including: anxiety, stomach pain, loss of strength, and sleep problems (RxList, n.d). Instead of relying on medication to solve problems, parents should just set limits with media.

What Should Be Done to Avoid These Negative Effects and Long Term Consequences of Technology?

Preventing the negative effects of technology is not the responsibility of just one party, but instead, it is the responsibility of parents, doctors, advertising industries, and the government. Parents should take charge in what they allow their children to do and set limits. According to Strasburg et al. (2010), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents limit total screen time for children older than two years to no more than one to two hours a day, and to avoid it completely for children of younger ages. However, according the AAP (n.d), children spend seven hours a day in total screen time. The AAP also recommends that parents watch media with their children and discuss the content (p. 762).

Doctors can also be a part of the solution. More pediatricians should be educated on the influences that media has on their patients. According to Strasburg et al. (2010, only half of the pediatricians in a 2004 survey of 365 pediatricians were interested in learning more about those effects of media. Also, only half of the pediatricians had recommended limiting screen time to their patients. They should be encouraging parents to “avoid putting a television set in the child’s bedroom” (p. 762). By eliminating a television set in a child’s bedroom, they are able to sleep, instead of spending all night watching television and playing video games.

Too much money is being spent advertising unhealthy foods, such as fast food restaurants and junk food snacks. According to Orciari (2013), “in 2012 the fast food industry spends $4.6 billion to advertise mostly unhealthy products, and children and teens remained key audiences for that advertising.” Also, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2011), 80 percent of all food products advertised towards children are high in saturated fat, sugar, or sodium. They are influencing children and their diets, yet nothing is being done about it. What could be done is limits could be placed on advertising junk food and fast food to children. When done in the United Kingdom, it resulted in a decrease in young audiences’ exposure to products linked with childhood obesity (Strasburg et al. 2010, p. 763).

The government should be passing and enforcing legislation regarding television and children. According to Strasburg et al. (2010), the Children’s Television Act was passed in 1990 and “mandates 3 hours per week of educational or informational programming for children on broadcast television networks” (p. 763). Unfortunately, this legislation has not been rigorously enforced. Congress should revisit the topic of technology and children, and appropriately distribute funding, pass legislation, and create educational programs in an effort to protect children from the negative consequences of media.

Conclusion

In order for parents to help their children avoid the negative health impacts of technology, they first must understand what those negative effects are. The negative physical effects of technology include obesity, computer vision syndrome, and an increased risk of child predation. The negative mental, emotional, and social effects of technology are children can be bullied in more ways, they can develop attention deficit disorder and lower self-esteem. Obesity and Attention Deficit Disorders have lasting effects on the future of children, effects that no parent would want to happen to their children. There are many things that can be done, and they can be done by parents, the government, and the advertising agencies, but it is parents who need to take charge, and push the others to follow their examples and invest in the future of children. As technology advances, so should parental concern, and action. If nothing is done, future generations of children will have to suffer with the consequences of our inaction.

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