What technology should your children have, and when will it hinder their brain development?
by Christianne Winthrop
The average American child soaks up over seven hours a day of media in the form of television, computers, video games and other devices. While many parents want their children to be prepared for a world becoming increasingly dependent on technology, recent studies have shown that so-called educational television for children 24 months and under is not beneficial, and increased exposure to media may actually harm development for children of all ages.
Birth to 24 months
A baby is born with approximately 100 billion neurons, and over the next three years the child’s brain will develop at a faster rate than at any other point in life. Stimuli lead those neurons to form the connections that will be the physical foundation for growth and learning. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents do their best to shield infants and toddlers in this age group from television and video. Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist, child development expert and author of Virtual Child: The Terrifying Truth about What Technology is Doing to Children, explains: “If the infant’s environment is nurturing, predictable and offers critical factors to promote development, the infant attains optimal physical, mental and social growth…If the infant’s environment is one of sedentary and isolative technology use, combined with limited touch and human connection, the infant’s development will be impaired, consequently affecting all aspects of their future success.”
2 years to 6 years
Children’s brains at this age are sponges, and their capacities for large and fine motor skills are still developing, which makes outdoor play essential. The AAP suggests limiting screen time to less than two hours a day for all children, but Rowan feels parents should continue to steer clear of media as much as possible up until kindergarten. She cites a University of Massachusetts study published in 2009 in which researchers concluded, after studying 50 children aged 1 to 3 years old, that both the quality and quantity of parent-child interactions dramatically decreased when the television was on in the background. The researchers suggest that “early, chronic exposure to television may have a negative impact on development,” since “high-quality parent-child interaction plays an important role in children’s development.” However, Rowan is quick to point out that there is a significant difference between using television as an electronic babysitter and parents and children sitting down together to watch a family-friendly movie.
6 years to 12 years
As a child moves from early to middle childhood and into the beginning stages of puberty, the brain begins a pruning process, where unused and unnecessary connections are eliminated based on use and experience. While there is nothing definitive and research is ongoing, there are some who believe in the “use it or lose it” principle—that how a child spends his or her time will affect the hard-wiring of the brain. Meaning that if a child spends significant periods of time watching television and playing video games instead of academic pursuits, those school-focused connections could be pruned away. Rowan suggests introducing Balanced Technology Management (BTM) at this age, which includes keeping televisions, computers and video-game consoles out of bedrooms and in shared living spaces where their usage can be more easily monitored. <