We like to talk about how technology is taking over our children’s lives.
“Kids these days,” we like to say.
But what if this issue really was serious enough that we should start paying attention? What might the next generation look like if these negative effects keep happening? And what are these negative effects exactly?
Dr. Dean Barley, LCSW, Ph.D., and Director of the BYU Comprehensive Clinic (a nonprofit mental health clinic that serves the Utah County area) is worried that basic, human methods of connection could be in jeopardy.
Effects on Relationships
In an interview, Dr. Barley said, “my concern is the effect technology has on interactional patterns and relationships and the ability to input and retain new material.”
In other words, if children don’t spend enough time interacting face-to-face with each other, their time spent learning to comprehend social cues and build relationships may be impacted. According to a study by Jean M. Twenge published in a journal by the American Psychological Association, the time that adolescents spend on digital media has increased exponentially even since 2009 and is on a constant incline.
If you think kids are on their phones more and more each day, you might be right. Photo by Pexels.
Effects on Cognitive Thinking
Dr. Barley continues to say that he is afraid that cognitive thinking may be affected even into adulthood.
“People get good at multitasking…but in-depth problem-solving may be negatively impacted.”
As kids teach themselves to use their phones, tablets, etc., they get good at working through apps, checking notifications and talking to their friends all at the same time. Some might even think that kids these days are becoming more intelligent and advanced than any generation before them, but the reality may be that, as Dr. Barley puts it, kids may not be learning “…to do in-depth problem solving and to maintain focus and attention.”
What does this mean exactly? Does it matter than kids can’t do complex linear algebra equations?
The real issue comes down to the fact that if kids don’t practice working through problems, then when life gives them lemons, they won’t know how to make lemonade. In fact, they won’t even know how to figure it out. This is where mental health issues come into play.
Effects on Attention and Interest
According to a study by San Diego State University and the University of Georgia discussed in this article by Daily Mail, activity on smartphones, tablets, etc. can have an effect on kids’ daily lives:
“Among 14 to 17-year-olds, more than four in ten (42.2 percent) of those in the study who spent more than seven hours a day on screens did not finish tasks.
About one in 11 (9 percent) of 11 to 13-year-olds who spent an hour with screens daily were not curious or interested in learning new things.”
There is so much information and so many tools and games available on the smartphones and tablets that kids use on a daily basis. On the same device that a kid could learn how to do that linear algebra equation, he or she could instead watch countless hours of YouTube videos or scroll through pictures and memes of random trends.
It would take a special kind of child to opt for Khan Academy over Candy Crush. And the sad reality is that kids don’t often understand that the little choices they are making now could have a direct impact on the way their mind works in the future.
The choices that kids make regarding how much time they spend on their phones today could affect them in the future. Photo by Adrianna Calvo from Pexels.
Effects on Brain Structure
Dr. Barley adds, “I wonder about the use of digital media and its effects on brain structure and functioning.”
“With any experiences we have, those experiences are encoded in the brain…it gets entrenched and impacts the structure and function of the brain,” he says.
So, is this the end of the line? Is there no hope?
Quite the opposite. Research shows that these negative effects are completely avoidable.
Countering Negative Effects
Sarah Coyne, a professor at Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life, found that screen time is not always the main issue. In this article by BYU News, she says, “If you get on specifically to seek out information or to connect with others, that can have a more positive effect than getting on just because you’re bored.”
Further, as noted in the article, Coyne offers three ways to turn digital media use into a positive aspect of your life:
“1. Be an active user instead of a passive user. Instead of just scrolling, actively comment, post and like other content.
2. Limit social media use at least an hour before falling asleep. Getting enough sleep is one of the most protective factors for mental health.
3. Be intentional. Look at your motivations for engaging with social media in the first place.”
As a parent, or even as an individual, you might want to take some time today to think about your kids’ technology habits. Do your children understand the consequences of their actions?
It might be smart to sit down at family dinner tonight and discuss the effects that technology can have on your brain and on your life. Even before that, it might be smart to sit down and have that conversation with yourself.
Blanchard, S., & Mailonline. (2018, November 2). Smartphones and tablets are causing mental health problems in children as young as two. Retrieved October 9, 2019, from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-6346349/Smartphones-tablets-causing-mental-health-problems-children-young-two.html.
Buckley, C. (2019, October 20). Does time spent on social media impact mental health? New BYU study shows screen time isn't the problem. Retrieved October 30, 2019, from https://news.byu.edu/intellect/does-time-spent-on-social-media-impact-mental-health-new-byu-study-shows-screen-time-isnt-the-problem.
Dr. Dean Barley, LCSW, Ph.D., Director of the BYU Comprehensive Clinic. Interview. October 9, 2019.
Twenge, J. M., Martin, G. N., & Spitzberg, B. H. (2018, August 16). Trends in U.S. Adolescents’ Media Use, 1976–2016: The Rise of Digital Media, the Decline of TV, and the (Near) Demise of Print. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000203