Children & Gadgets: The Impact of Electronic Media on Children Development

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They Are Not Designed With Children In Mind

Technologies, led by the internet play a vital role in our daily lives today. These digital media; television, the internet, and smart devices, revolutionised how we adults communicate and interact with one another – from the way we work to the way we socialise and everything in between. Children are no exception. Love it or hate it, digital media are here to stay. And most of them, sadly, are not designed with children in mind [1].

Effects of technology on children are complicated, with both benefits and negative effects. Although there are aspects of technology that do offer great opportunities for more engaged learning, all types of technology when used in excess can have huge impacts on one’s mental and emotional well-being.

One effect that has been most noticeable is when we see how today’s children play and interact with each other. They don’t go out and play anymore. They thus don’t get as much exercise as we used to when we were kids. It came as no surprise when they are no longer familiar with traditional games such as marbles, hide and seek, and police and thief to name a few [2].

Not All Bad


The influence of digital media on the psychosocial development of a child is profound. As s/he grows and develops, s/he can be easily influenced by what they see and hear; programs s/he views on television in particular. Digital media are not all bad if programs they’re watching are educational. They can, in fact, be a powerful teacher [3]. We wrote an article recommending programs that teach good things a child can watch on Netflix. Here, Our Favourite TV Shows For Kids On Netflix That Teach Good Things.

Watching Sesame Street is an example of how toddlers can learn valuable lessons about racial harmony, cooperation, kindness, simple arithmetic and the alphabet through an educational television format. Some public television programs stimulate visits to the zoo, libraries, bookstores, museums and other active recreational settings, and educational videos can certainly serve as powerful prosocial teaching devices. The educational value of Sesame Street, has been shown to improve the reading and learning skills of its viewers. In some disadvantaged settings, healthy television habits may actually be a beneficial teaching tool” [4]

Problems, And What Does The Research Say

Inattention and increased behavioural problems in preschoolers

This study involved a population-based sample of 3,455 children recruited in four Canadian (Edmonton, Toronto, Vancouver, and Manitoba). The study found that children who were exposed to more than 2-hours of screen-time each day showed increased behaviour problems at 5 years scores compared to children who had a 30-minutes screen-time a day. 

Screen-time above the two-hours threshold at 5-years was associated with an increased risk of clinically relevant externalizing morbidity and specifically inattention problems” [5].

They are more likely to experience speech delays

This paper examines the association between mobile media device use and communication delays in 18-month-old children. Based on a cross-sectional study involving a sample of 893 children, the study demonstrated a significant association between mobile media device use and parent-reported expressive speech delay in 18-month-old children.

One of the mechanisms explaining this relationship isthat television viewing is believed to reduce opportunities for parent-child interaction and play, which is critical for early language development. Audible television has been associated with significant reductions in observed parental word count and conversational turns in children aged 2 to 48 months” [6].

More screen time, more obesity

Children who spend a lot of time in front of screens have a heightened risk for overweight. How does screen media exposure cause obesity in children? Increased eating while using screens, food advertising and sleep disturbance [7].

Eating while viewing is one important way that screen media exposure increases children’s energy intake. Studies have revealed that children consume a large proportion of their daily calories and meals while watching screen media. In 1 study, up to a third of daily energy intake and half of children’s meals were consumed in front of a screen. Some of this effect may be because of the large amount of time spent with screens, the types of high-energy foods and beverages that are consumed while viewing, media acting as a trigger or prompt to eating, media extending the duration of eating, or media distracting from or obscuring feelings of fullness or satiety” [8].

What can you do

You can help decrease the harmful effects of digital media. The following is a good start.

a) Choose age-appropriate, educational programs you think are appropriate for your child. Prioritise programs that have morals and messages behind them.

b) Limit your child’s screen time. It should be no more than 1 hour. Less is better. Read WHO’s guideline on screen time. We wrote about it, too, here

c) Co-watch the program with your child. Talk about the program with your child as you watch.

d) Set a good example for your child by limiting your own screen time.

e) Go out. Get involved in other fun, physical activities.

f) Read aloud to your child. 15 minutes a day.

References

  1. Children’s Commissioner for England. (2019). Growing up Digital | Children’s Commissioner for England. [online] Available at: https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/publication/growing-up-digital/ [Accessed 8 Nov. 2019].
  2. Fadzil, N. M., Abdullah, M. Y., & Salleh, M. A. M. (2016). The Level Of Tolerance Sanctioning Children Using Gadgets By Parents Lead To Nomophobia: Early Age Gadgets Exposure. International Journal of Arts & Sciences9(2), 615.
  3. Wright, J. C., & Huston, A. C. (1995). Effects of educational TV viewing of lower income preschoolers on academic skills, school readiness, and school adjustment one to three years later: A report to Children’s Television Workshop. University of Kansas, Center for Research on the Influences of Television on Children.
  4. Impact of media use on children and youth. (2003). Paediatrics & Child Health8(5), 301-306. doi:10.1093/pch/8.5.301
  5. Tamana, S. K., Ezeugwu, V., Chikuma, J., Lefebvre, D. L., Azad, M. B., Moraes, T. J., … & Dick, B. D. (2019). Screen-time is associated with inattention problems in preschoolers: Results from the CHILD birth cohort study. PloS one14(4), e0213995.
  6. van den Heuvel, M., Ma, J., Borkhoff, C. M., Koroshegyi, C., Dai, D. W., Parkin, P. C., … & Birken, C. S. (2019). Mobile Media Device Use is Associated with Expressive Language Delay in 18-Month-Old Children. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics40(2), 99.
  7. Children and Screens. (2019). Obesity | Children and Screens. [online] Available at: https://www.childrenandscreens.com/findings/obesity/#note1 [Accessed 8 Nov. 2019].
  8. Robinson, T. N., Banda, J. A., Hale, L., Lu, A. S., Fleming-Milici, F., Calvert, S. L., & Wartella, E. (2017). Screen media exposure and obesity in children and adolescents. Pediatrics140(Supplement 2), S97-S101.


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