Today’s parents navigate the uncharted waters of raising a family in a digital age. They seem to walk a tightrope between seeing their children sucked into a sea of technology, or risk them being left behind. To complicate matters further, parents are also fighting their own battle of constant connectivity. With no roadmap to follow, iGeneration moms are left to their own devices to figure out how to use technology to improve efficiency and learning without causing harm to their families.
1 Technology Timeline
Forty years ago, Motorola introduced the country to the first hand-held mobile phone. Over a foot long, and weighing in at nearly two pounds, it’s hard to imagine this brick-like device spawned the development of the sleek high-tech gadgets now used by over 85 percent of American adults.
Technology is a staple in the workplace, and, over the past decades, it has found its way into our homes as well. The U.S. Census Bureau reports over two-thirds of adults in this country now own laptops or desktop computers, a number that has continued to grow.
Social media soaks up much of our valuable personal time, and since over half of the cell phones owned by adults in this country are smartphones, the various social media apps are only a swipe away. Nielson’s annual Social Media Report revealed the U.S. spent 121 billion minutes on social media during the month of July 2012, the equivalence of 388 minutes per person.
The easy access to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and other social media apps makes it tempting to interrupt work time, mealtime or family time to check-in for the latest updates.
2 What’s the Harm?
From techie teens to precocious preschoolers, kids are absorbing the new technology like thirsty sponges, leaving parents to ponder – how much is too much?
Children and teens spend inordinate amounts of time staring at the screens of TVs, computers, smart phones, e-readers, iPads, and so on. While it’s hard to deny the educational benefits of technology, this kind of media overload can rob us of social engagement, and even impact physical wellbeing. “People think if a child is using technology for educational things, it’s okay. But when kids are too focused on technology, they miss out on bonding with other kids,” says Jacksonville pediatrician, Mark Bedard, D.O.
Excessive screen time has been linked to sleep interference, language development delays, obesity and decreased physical activity. “We’re seeing a more sedentary population and that leads to other problems like weight gain and fatigue,” says Jennifer Fordan-Herman, M.D., a pediatrician at Island Pediatrics in Fleming Island.
When media use is not restricted, kids can be exposed to sex and violence and can even suffer from advertising overload. The average child encounters over 100 television commercials a day and the American Academy of Pediatrics reports there is a strong association between increased junk food advertisements and childhood obesity rates. But kids aren’t the only ones feeling the lure of connectivity.
One study found 79 percent of smartphone users ages 18–44 had their phones with them 22 hours a day, and they weren’t afraid to use them. A national survey by TeleNav revealed over a fourth of smartphone owners interrupted mealtime for cell use, and 22 percent admitted they’d rather part with their significant other for a week than temporarily give up their beloved smartphone.
A Boston Medical Center study found when parents were distracted by their smartphones, they were less interactive and crankier with their children. Researchers caution it is too soon to draw conclusions from the small study, but some experts worry this kind of impaired interaction could affect children’s language development.