By Johanna Perlin
Director of Temple Shalom Nursery School

Let me start out by saying that the advances in technology even in the last five years have me in awe. To think that when my children (now 27 and 30 years old) were growing up, most people didn’t have cell phones (which were big and clobby!) with which to instantly keep touch, a GPS to get us where we wanted to go without getting lost (we had  to stop to ask directions!) or “Siri” to answer our questions. Our computers were clunky and slow. We had no small laptops or iPads or “apps” or smart phones or Facebook to stay connected, look up information, design things or find instruction videos. If we missed a TV show, we could set the VCR timer to record a specified time period–no DVR or multiple show recordings. Watching a movie meant physically going to a movie house or going to a movie store to rent a movie!

I am learning about and using some of this technology just like everyone else because it has made accessing information and communicating so much quicker and easier. However, that said, I worry about the effect of the pervasive use of this technology on the healthy development of the young child, beginning as young as 1-2 years old, not to mention the high-school students and college students who spend hours on the computer to do their homework and then hours on their smart phones to keep socially connected.

The 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that the percentage of 8- to 18-year-olds with their own cell phones grew from 39 percent to 66 percent. In many pre-schools, we’ve had to put a sign up reminding parents that there’s no cell phone use while dropping off their child. Many of the little children I see in stores, restaurants, and other public places are kept occupied by their parents with iPhones or iPads.

It has also become the common medium for showing children what nature species and places around the world look like. This calls to mind the advertisement for one of the phone services extolling their feature of easy access to services whenever you want, in which even when the child is up in his tree house he can watch a movie. How sad that it isn’t enough for the child to be out in his tree house enjoying his surroundings and using his imagination!

I am not alone in my concerns. The fallout from pervasive use of media is becoming more apparent. Health care professionals, occupational therapists, physical therapists and educators are witnessing it and doing research to concertize the correlation between the increase in physical and emotional deficits being diagnosed in young children and the high use of phones, iPads and computers. School referrals for occupational therapy and social language therapy are on the rise. During a recent teacher workshop I attended, behaviorist Jeanine Fitzgerald shared these alarming facts:

  • Computer screen lighting causes eye strain.
  • 20 minutes of exposure to a computer changes the chemistry of the brain so it releases cortisol, which causes lethargy and irritability.
  • High computer use, because of its passivity, is displacing experiences in healthy social interaction (giving eye contact and ability to hold a live social conversation), important sensory experiences, and physical movement necessary for muscle development that ensures healthy full brain development.

If young children don’t get a multitude of real learning experiences in nature, creativity and free movement, then when faced with a challenge they will only use the emotional sensational brain without also engaging the logical thinking and self regulation (when to act and when not to) resulting in emotional meltdowns (I’m sure you’ve witnessed or experienced these and thought that it meant a spoiled child?).

In Harvard Pilgrim Health Care’s winter newsletter, I came across an article entitled “Making Friends With Our Media.” It describes the negative affects too much time spent using media has on young children’s development and offers suggestions to parents for how to establish a more healthy balance. You can read the full article on www.harvardpilgrim.org. The Center on Media and Child’s Health at Children’s Hospital was established to compile information and offer guidance to parents on setting appropriate levels of media. The doctors are called “mediatricians” and have a blog presenting questions and answers.

Media is not going away; it’s only going to get faster and better. The future generations will need to know how to use it. However, we have to understand that in order for healthy brain and physical development to occur in young children, they must have a multitude of real structured and unstructured learning experiences, both in school and at home. And as with everything, “quality and quantity matter.” We need to define what a healthy media diet is for the young child 0-6 years old and understand that it should look different from the media diet acceptable for an older child or a young adult.

If you have any questions or would like more information about Temple Shalom Nursery School, Johanna can be contacted at jperlin@templeshalom.org or at (617) 969-5521.

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