Parents should be more careful about the amount of "stimulating" technology their kids are exposed to on a regular basis. With kids looking at various screens, from tablets, to computers, to mobile phones and even street advertisements, their development is threatened by this kinds of constant overstimulation. With the speed of integration of digital gadgetry into our lives, its impact on young children hasn't yet been comprehensively studied. It's troubling to know that we can't even say if such extensive immersion will cause lasting harm to children as they are growing up.
"These devices have an almost obsessive pull towards them," says Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University and author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us. "How can you expect the world to compete with something like an iPad3 with a high-definition screen, clear video and lots of interactivity? How can anything compete with that? There's certainly no toy that can.
Before technology thrust itself into our lives, absorption of different kinds of information was accomplished using separate parts of the brain. A book read was processed differently than a movie seen or a game played and won. Now, these experiences are all being delivered in the same way, using only one medium.
Those parents who used to worry about too much TV watching even ten years ago, must look upon those times with longing, since nowadays, keeping a screen from the eyes of a child could become a full-time job. This could have deleterious effects even on older kids, like teens and pre-teens. Just getting ready for school might involve quick peeks of the mobile phone, to catch up on anything important missed while sleeping, and also a jump on a computer to read the latest email. Once the school day has begun, screens could be even more prevalent, gracing some or even all classrooms students might find themselves in before the final bell has rung. At home, it's just more of the same: screens for doing homework, screens for catching up with friends, screens for favorite TV show, continued until bedtime only to begin again in the morning.
Wayne Warburton, a psychologist at Macquarie University, says US studies show that beyond the school gates, teenagers are using screens or listening to music for more than 7 ½ hours a day. In Australia it is more than five hours and rising.
Authoritative standards on appropriate levels of use are limited. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends parents discourage TV for children under two and limit screen time for older children to less than two hours a day.
Rosen finds these kind of hard limits both unrealistic and counterproductive. When the life of a student revolves around a computer of one kind or another, trying to enforce a hard cutoff is doomed to failure. A better method would be to set up a balance so children will spend a certain period engaging with the non-electronic world for every hour that they spend in front of a monitor.
He suggests a ratio of screen time to other activities of 1:5 for very young children, 1:1 for pre-teens and 5:1 for teenagers. Parents should have weekly talks with their children from the start, looking for signs of obsession, addiction and lack of attention.