Children and Technology: Positive and Negative Effects
Evolution of Children’s Use of Technology
Early Examples of Children and Technology
- The first Speak & Spell toys debuted in 1978 to teach children ages 7 and older how to pronounce and spell 200 commonly misspelled words. It relied on electronic speech synthesis and bubble memory (a precursor to RAM) and was the first such product to use solid-state circuitry to replace all moving parts.
- While Magnavox’s Odyssey was the first gaming console upon its release in 1972, the device was soon eclipsed by the home version of Atari’s Pong arcade video game, which began shipping in 1975. This was followed by the Atari 2600 game console in 1977 and similar devices from Nintendo, Mattel, and Coleco, among other vendors. Sega and Nintendo came to dominate the home video market through the 1980s, along with Commodore, Atari, and Sony’s PlayStation, which was released in 1994.
Evolution of Technology Designed to Educate and Entertain Children
- A recent study published in Children and Youth Services Review identified problematic smartphone use (present in 16.4% of high school students surveyed), daytime sleepiness (20.2%), and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (6.9%) as spiking during pandemic lockdowns.
- A study published in the Italian Journal of Pediatrics found that 66.3% of the children and adolescents surveyed used their smartphone for more than four hours a day during the pandemic, compared with 16.3% who did so before the pandemic. In addition, 56% of the children and adolescents surveyed used their smartphone after midnight at least three times each week, compared with 30.4% before the pandemic.
Positive and Negative Effects of Technology on Children
Positive Effects of Technology on Children
- Technology allows children to connect with their family, friends, and others in ways that enrich their relationships, especially when using video chat and other real-time interactions.
- Parents and caregivers are learning to slow down and tone down the applications, games, and other content children use to avoid overloading their senses. This teaches children how to moderate their own use of technology.
- Rather than trying to eliminate all risk to children when using technology, the goal should be reducing the risk and adapting when problems arise, such as preventing children from accessing devices at specific times of the day.
- Technology helps children become independent learners more quickly. Once they learn how to access digital information sources safely, they’re able to explore the topics that interest them on their own.
- Children learn the importance of building communities and how to interact with people in social situations. When circumstances prevent children from establishing physical bonds with family members, friends, and others, they’re able to use technology to create “virtual bonds.”
- Early access to technology teaches the digital literacy skills that children will need for their future success in school and as adults.
- Many technology products promote hand-eye coordination in young children, while others focus on developing their language and problem-solving skills.
Negative Effects of Technology on Children
- Lack of attention, aggressive behaviors, obesity, physical inactivity, sleep problems
- Musculoskeletal problems related to a sedentary lifestyle
- Greater risk of lifetime obesity and cardiovascular disease
- Sleep disturbances and poor-quality sleep for children who overuse social media or keep mobile devices in their bedroom
- Exposure to harmful online content and sexual exploitation: A study by Irish researchers found that children of all ages are able to bypass the age verification systems of social media apps, such as Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. This can bring children into direct contact with potential predators and other dangers.
- Cyber bullying: The Cyberbullying Research Center reports that incidents of cyber bullying are most prevalent at ages 12 to 15. A recent survey by the center of 13- to 17-year-olds found that 23.7% of girls, 21.9% of boys, and 35.4% of transgender teens had experienced being bullied.
- Low self-esteem and increased anxiety: CNN reports that teens and adolescents are using image filters on Instagram to enhance their appearance even though the result looks nothing like them. “Self-esteem addiction” can make young people feel inadequate. As children spend more time on social media, they may become withdrawn or find themselves obsessively checking their social media feeds.
Resources on Ways Children Are Affected by Technology
- The Register, “Technology Does Widen the Education Divide. But Not Always in the Way You Expect” — One educator found that upon returning from online education during lockdown, children had turned away from technology, preferring real books and nontech activities because tech is no longer seen as “fun.”
- Edutopia, “Helping Parents Feel More Comfortable with Tech” — Advice for teachers about how to convince parents to support technology in the classroom.
- UNICEF, “Harnessing the Power of Technology and Digital Innovation for Children” — A report describing the initiatives and successes of the Digital UNICEF 2020 program, which is intended to extend the reach of UNICEF’s aid efforts.
Technology and Children Statistics
- A survey by Common Sense Media found that 49% of 8- to 18-year-olds in the U.S. had attended classes fully or partially online since the start of the pandemic.
- Hispanic/Latinx students (48%) and Black students (39%) were much more likely than their white counterparts (20%) to attend school fully online.
- Similarly, students from low-income families (42%) were more likely to rely completely on online instruction than those from middle-income and high-income families (31% and 27%, respectively).
- While 92% of white students had a computer at home, only 87% of Hispanic/Latinx students and 78% of Black students did.
- Broadband access at home was available to 90% of students from families with high incomes, compared with 80% for middle-income families and 61% for lower-income families.
- In addition, 88% of white families had broadband access at home, while 76% of Black families and 68% of Hispanic/Latinx families had broadband access at home.
Statistics on Children’s Online Activities
- Twenty-two percent of 4- to 7-year-olds had high levels of conduct problems in the fall of 2020, compared with 11% who did so in a survey conducted before the pandemic.
- Higher levels of hyperactivity (15% vs. 10%), peer problems (17% vs. 9%), lack of prosocial behavior (20% vs. 8%), and total difficulties (15% vs. 8%) were also recorded among 4- to 7-year-olds during the pandemic.
How Children’s Screen Time Correlates to Their Mental and Physical Health
- Screen time involves sedentary activities that detract from MVPA and delay bedtime and that interrupt sleep with digital notifications.
- The result is an increased risk of children becoming overweight or obese, as well as more sleepiness during the day and lower academic achievement.
- While most of the 13- and 14-year-olds in the study met the recommendations for total screen time (less than two hours per day) and MVPA (at least one hour per day), only half met the recommendation for sleep (8.5 hours per night). Meeting the recommendation for screen time and one of the other two factors led to better academic outcomes.
Finding the Right Amount of Time Online for Children
- Allow more screen time for positive educational activities.
- Encourage children to take breaks from the screen that involve outdoor activities.
- Avoid using screens as “babysitters” that keep children occupied. Find other nonscreen activities, such as creative toys, coloring books, and storybooks.
- Don’t let children’s use of electronics cut into their sleep time.
- Make sure that children take short breaks from the screen every 20 minutes or so to protect their vision.
- Check the area of the screen activity to ensure that the lighting is neither too dark nor too bright.
Tech Companies’ Growing Impact on Children
- The Verge reports that Facebook is exploring the use of playdates to spur children to use its Messenger Kids application.
- According to Reuters, attorneys general of several states are investigating Instagram for its attempts to attract young children in violation of consumer protection laws.
- YouTube is being sued in the U.K. over alleged violations of children’s privacy and data rights, according to Tech Monitor.
- A recent survey by Accountable Tech found that 74% of parents believe that Facebook cares more about profits than about keeping their children safe on the site.
Resources Providing Statistics on Children and Technology
- International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television, International Data Youth and Media 2021 — Statistics on the types of technologies that children use in countries around the world, as well as daily use of media by children in various age groups.
- Family Online Safety Institute, “Healthy Screen Time: Mobile Technology’s Relationship with Children’s Exercise” — A study reporting a sharp decrease in the amount of time children spend playing outdoors and the growing reliance on applications that entail physical activity, such as Nintendo’s Wii console.
Technology and Social Interaction in Children
- Some children are experiencing anxiety in the classroom that may relate to separation anxiety after spending a prolonged period with family.
- While most students readjust quickly to their school routine, those who’ve experienced trauma at home are most likely to struggle in school. This is especially true for children in kindergarten and first grade.
- Children are showing their resilience in adapting quickly to masking and social distancing requirements.
Child Development and Technology
- Digital play develops a range of abilities in children, including subject knowledge and understanding; digital skills; and skills related to social, emotional, cognitive, and creative development.
- Because digital and physical play are intermixed in children’s lives, it’s more appropriate to look at play holistically.
- Appropriation is the reason for acquiring the digital tool.
- Objectification of the digital tool instills a personal meaning for the tool in the child using it.
- Incorporation describes how the digital tool becomes a part of the child’s life. It also explains appropriate and inappropriate uses of the tool.
- Conversion occurs when the digital tool has redefined the child’s worldview and relations with others.
Resources on the Impact of Technology on Children’s Development and Social Interactions
- Early Childhood Education Journal, “Investigating Young Children’s Interactions During Digital Play” — Research into children’s social behaviors within digital play environments found that adding a social dimension increased a child’s engagement in the activity.
- OECD iLibrary, “Children and Digital Technologies: Trends and Outcomes” — Topics include use of social robots to help treat children with chronic diseases and the impact of digital technologies on children’s physical health.