The Truth About Our Kids and Technology

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At Minno, we know that today’s parents are trailblazers for parenting kids in a digital age. No one has ever done this before and it can be hard to know how to do it well. We are committed to partner with you as you navigate life with kids and technology. As you look toward Christmas—a time when kids are begging for devices and may have a little extra time on their hands to get lost on them—we’re bringing you one of the most balanced expert voices on the subject, Sissy Goff, to share strategies but most importantly, empathy for parents. Check back here throughout the month as Sissy addresses statistics, boundaries, cell-phone contracts, and more.

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Technology is here to stay.

Today’s generation of kids has several names: digital natives, the iGeneration, the selfie generation, and a host of other names revolving around technology. They are the first generation of kids who will have technology as a prominent force in their daily lives as long as they can remember.

And technology is a prominent force. For example, the average person checks their screens every 9 minutes and 50 seconds during their waking hours each day.1 Adults spend an average of 10 hours and 39 minutes per day consuming media on screens.2  If those are the statistics for adults, what about these digital natives? According to one source, kids under the age of two average 53 minutes per day on screens. For two to four-year-olds, it rises to 2 ½ hours per day. Five to eight-year-olds spend approximately 3 hours per day on their screens.3 The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children, across the board, spend an average of 7 hours per day on entertainment-related media.4  Teenagers are averaging 9 hours per day on their screens.5 And get this:  69% of children between the ages of 2-5 can use a computer mouse, but only 11% can tie their own shoes. 58% of children know how to play a video game, while 52% know how to ride a bike, and only 20% know how to swim.6 

Something’s off. It’s off in terms of how today’s generation of kids are spending their time, and it’s off in terms of how it’s impacting their brains.

Technology is literally rewiring the brains of the kids we love.

All of our brains grow in response to how they’re being used—as we get older, they just grow less (and work less, too, according to myself and anyone else over the age of 40). Between birth and two years of age, an infant’s brain triples in size. It continues in a state of rapid development until the age of 21. Early brain development is largely determined by environmental stimuli. 

As we know, overexposure to technology is associated with childhood obesity and diabetes, from a physical standpoint. In terms of a child’s brain development, it’s associated with diagnoses of ADHD, autism, coordination disorder, developmental delays, learning difficulties, and sensory processing disorder. From an emotional standpoint, it’s also seen as a causal factor in anxiety and depression in children, as well as increased impulsivity and a decreased ability to self-regulate.7 

As all of us who love teenagers know, their brains are in constant flux, as well. Although by the age of six, the brain is already 95% of the size of an adult brain, the gray matter continues to grow throughout adolescence. The brain cells are growing extra connections, causing a period of rapid growth and thickening of the gray matter, which is considered the thinking part of the brain. This process peaks at approximately age 11 for girls and age 12 for boys. From then on, the excess connections are what scientists refer to as “pruned.”  It’s literally like the gardening term, meaning that what is being used survives and flourishes, whereas the cells and connections not used wither and die. They call it the “use it or lose it” principle.8  This doesn’t bode well for the teens who are spending 9 hours per day on screens for entertainment purposes (as opposed to screens for educational purposes).

Socially, we all know the implications of this hyper-focus on technology. The overexposure creates a lack of time for relationships and delays their social skills learning. They, and we, basically learn social skills by being social. In a study conducted at UCLA, sixth-graders who went 5 days without screens were significantly better at reading human emotions than those who were continuing their regular use with their devices.9 

In addition, overexposure to technology impacts a child’s creativity—and ours, too. Think about it:  where and when do you have your most creative thoughts? When we ask parents at our technology classes, their answers are typically “in the shower,” “waking up,” and “falling asleep”—times we typically aren’t looking at a screen. It is in those times that we have what we call “aha moments.”  In other words, we have more creative thoughts when our minds aren’t engaged elsewhere.

So, what can we do?

Research says there are four critical factors necessary for our children to develop: movement, touch, human connection, and exposure to nature. All four factors foster coordination, self-regulation, and many other skills necessary for school entry. Young children’s brains need 2-3 hours per day of active play to achieve adequate sensory stimulation.10  As children grow older, those same four factors are crucial. Teenagers need to move, to connect with others in real-time, and to be hugged (no matter how much they stiff-arm us with their embarrassed selves). They need time outdoors—to help them stretch their legs, minds, and the self-preoccupation that accompanies life on social media.

Technology not only impacts but also changes the way the kids we love grow and develop. Screens can be helpful in furthering their growth in certain areas, too—an idea we’ll come back to later in this series. But we want children to put down their screens so that their exposure to technology is limited, but heightened to real life—where connection, creativity, relationships and the things that matter most really occur.

Content is taken from Taming the Technology Monster by Sissy Goff.

Stay connected to Minno Life for more posts from Sissy Goff, M.Ed., LPC-MHSP, and Director of Child and Adolescent Counseling at Daystar Counseling Ministries about our kids and technology.

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1Westcott, Lucy. (January 30, 2014). How Often Does The Average Person Check Their Phone?  Every 10 Minutes, New Study Finds

2Howard, Jacqueline. (July 29, 201i6). Americans Devote More Than 10 Hours a Day to Screen Tme, and Growing.  CNN.com

3Conrad, Dr. Brent. Media Statistics-Children’s Use of TV, Internet, and Video Games.  Tech Addiction

4Media and Children Communication Toolkit. American Academy of Pediatrics

5Wallace, Kelly. (November 3, 2015). Teens Spend a ‘Mind-Boggling’ 9 Hours a Day Using Media  CNN.com

6Byrne, Ciara. (January 19, 2011). Generation Tech: More Kids Can Play Computer Games than Ride a Bike. Venture Beat

7Rowan, Cris. (January 29, 2013).  The Impact of Technology on the Developing Child. The Huffington Post

8Interview: Jay Giedd. Inside the Teenage Brain. Frontline. PBS.org

9Wolpert, Stuart. (August 21, 2014). In Our Digital World, are Young People Losing the Ability to Read Emotions? UCLA Newsroom

10Rowan, Cris.  (January 29, 2013).  The Impact of Technology on the Developing Child. The Huffington Post