Is Technology Harmful to my Kids? What Parents Need to Know

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, my Facebook news feed has plenty of parents asking questions about technology for their kids. Here are few questions I have come across:

Looking for some advice. What electronic device is good for a 2-3-year-old?”

“Should I buy my 7-year-old an iPhone?”

“My 13-year-old son is asking for Grand Theft Auto for Christmas. I really don’t think he should be playing these games but it’s the only thing he is asking for. Suggestions?"

Let me start by saying you are not a terrible parent if you buy your kids electronic gadgets, tablets, smart phones or video games for Christmas. In fact, you may be a very good parent.

So what I’m about to say is not an indictment on parents who do so. As a parent myself, I want to humbly say I understand the struggle. My wife and I have a 15-month-old at home who already carries the remote to us. We’re learning in the survival moments of parenting, in the midst of temper tantrums and needy pulling-on-the-pant-leg, “Dada, up-up-up” demands, when we already have a million tasks on our to-do lists, these gadgets can be lifesavers. I’ve learned it’s better for my son to watch Mickey Mouse or Veggie Tales than to have his dad start drinking.

The Plague

But, I want to warn you. There’s a plague you may be blind to that’s invading your home. If you have a teenager doing homework on the computer, listening to ear buds, and watching TV while texting a friend all at the same time, you may be infected. Screen time, which by definition includes texting, video games, television, Internet, social media, tablets, and the like, has become a plague ever so subtly attacking our kids’ ability to relate.

As parents, we’ve widely accepted these gadgets as making our lives easier and more efficient. But we’re lying to ourselves if we don’t admit the consequences these invasive devices have on our children’s hearts. What you may not know is that they are also changing the wiring of their brains.

Allow me to share a few facts to help explain.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (these are the neuroscience researchers studying the brains of our offspring) now suggest our kids (and this includes teenagers) limit screen time to a maximum of two hours a day apart from homework.[i]
  • To help you put this in perspective, kids and teenagers ages 12 to 18 spend nearly two hours a day texting alone.[ii]
  • For 8 to 10 year olds, the average time spent online or in front of a screen is almost 8 hours a day. Those ages 11 to 18 spend more than 11 hours per day.[iii]

For comparison’s sake:

  • Parents, on average, spend between 2-3 hours a day with their kids.[iv]

The relational and psychological effects of these numbers on our kids are mind numbing (pun intended):

  • Our kids are getting dumber: One scientist believes we have hit an evolutionary peak in the human brain’s ability to reason (i.e. we are getting dumber as a species).
  • Our kids are becoming more self-centered: Narcissism (i.e. self-centeredness) has increased by 30% among college students in the past 30 years.[v]
  • Our kids care less about others: Empathy (the ability to step into the shoes of another) has decreased by 40% in the past 30 years.[vi]

We must open our eyes to the psychological drugs of the 21st century.

Do you know the Chief Technology Officer of EBay sends his kids to a nine-classroom school where technology is totally omitted? So do employees of Google, Apple, Yahoo, and Hewlett-Packard.[vii] Bill Gates only allowed his daughters on the Internet 45 minutes a day, including video games. He also didn’t permit a cell phone until they turned 13.

If the people who are creating these devices are protecting their children, why aren’t we?

The Inoculation

No wise parent would place a full-service bar of alcohol in their kids’ bedroom. Because you want to protect your kids. Yet, we will put a full-service search bar on a device in our kids’ bedrooms with unprotected Internet access where in less than a half a second they can have access to the most grotesque images you could imagine.

One pediatrician recently commented, “I guarantee you that if you have a 14-year-old boy and he has an Internet connection in his bedroom, he is looking at pornography.”[viii] (Pick jaw up off the floor).

In a culture teaching our kids to feel better rather than to love better, the only inoculation from this plague is involved parenting.

Proverbs describes the human heart as a tablet and tells us to write steadfast love all over it.[ix] As a parent, there is no greater influence on what’s written on your child’s heart than you.

I pray I raise my son to walk up to a barista at a coffee shop and place an order without simultaneously texting or talking on his phone. I hope he sees the person on the other side of the counter.

I don’t want to raise my son to be brainwashed by video games. I want my son to be able to relate to people and serve their needs.

I want my son’s identity not based on the number of “likes” he receives on Facebook or “followers” he has on Twitter, but to be placed securely in the God who loves him, and calls him to love others.

As you shop this Christmas, consider the good, the bad and the ugly that comes with that device.

Are we teaching our kids to feel better, or love better?

For more information on how to navigate the world of technology with your kids, you can follow Josh on Twitter and Facebook or you can subscribe here.

_____________________________

Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is a speaker, author, counselor, and life coach. Coauthor of God Attachment: Why You Believe, Act and Feel the Way You Do About God and The Quick Reference Guide to Counseling Teenagers, Josh specializes as a relational bridge builder between the generations.  He enjoys combining empirical research with biblical wisdom to provide practical insight and inspiration for today’s families. He serves on the teaching team at Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, MO and is married to his favorite Canadian, Christi. Together, they are the proud parents of Landon. You can find Josh on Twitter @joshuastraub or on Facebook.

[i] American Academy of Pediatrics. (2013). Policy statement: Children, adolescents, and the media. Pediatrics, 132 (5), p. 958-962. Retrieved from: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/132/5/958.full.pdf+html

[ii] Rideout V. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8- to 18-year-olds. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Wang, W. (2013, October 8). Parent’s time with kids more rewarding than paid work—and more exhausting. Pew Research Center- Social and Demographic Trends. Retrieved from: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/10/08/parents-time-with-kids-more-rewarding-than-paid-work-and-more-exhausting/

[v] Twenge, J. & Campbell, W. K. (2010). The narcissism epidemic. New York: Free Press.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Richtel, M. (2011, October 23). Silicon Valley school sticks to basics, shuns high-tech tools. Retrieved from: http://www.boston.com/news/education/k_12/articles/2011/10/23/school_that_educates_the_children_of_silicon_valley_eschews_high_tech/

[viii] CBSNews (2013, October 28). Pediatricians urge parents to limit kids’ “screen time.” Retrieved from: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/pediatricians-urge-parents-to-limit-kids-screen-time/

[ix]Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 7:3