My great-niece, Amanda, had what appeared to be a falling out with her friend. They had been best friends largely due to proximity. They were neighbors and could talk across the fence. Last year Amanda refused invitations for play. Upon searching for a cause, she admitted that her friend wasn’t fun anymore. Her friend ignored her when they were together because she was on social media or playing on touchscreen devices. It just wasn’t fun for Amanda.
It’s not that Amanda doesn’t have her own tablet for games. In fact, I gave her a Kindle Fire for her third birthday. And I recently gave her my old iPod at nine years old. These were well-intentioned gestures but I already have regrets. Research demonstrates both positive and negative aspects of touchscreen devices but some of the harmful effects cause me to worry.
Everyone knows that children’s use should be monitored and their viewing time should be limited. Computers and other devices should be kept in a public place and children shouldn’t be allowed to take them to bed with them. They shouldn’t even be used as an alarm clock. You should set restrictions so they can’t access adult content.
Psychologist Sue Palmer believes the IPad is a threat to our children. She points to excessive screen time as associated with obesity, sleep disorders, aggression, poor social skills, depression and academic underachievement. Although toddlers become adept at swiping a screen, children’s coordination may lag due to a sedentary lifestyle. Other research has demonstrated beneficial effects such as improving early literacy skills and improving academic engagement in students with autism. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a guideline of no screen time for children under two and a maximum of two hours a day thereafter.
There is compelling research that social media contributes to social isolation, rather than social engagement. More time on social media is linked to depression, jealousy, low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority. A study from the University of Pittsburgh found that people who used social media two hours or more a day had twice the odds of feeling socially isolated than people who spent less than half an hour a day. Theories about why this happens is that viewing social media takes away from person to person contact. Or, that we make comparisons to others’ posts and may feel jealous of what appears to be a happier life than ours. One study found that regardless of the number of friends we have on social media, we still only have a small circle of real friends. Some say that real friendships require actual person to person contact. And for children that means just hanging out.
Technology is a wonderful tool and social media itself is not bad. However, children do not have the ego strength to combat cyber-bullying. They take negativity to heart. Without a fully developed brain and maturity, they are vulnerable to aggressive or hurtful words and lack sufficient skills to cope. For children who are still developing social skills and have insecurities, social media may amplify their struggles of feeling left out. Those not invited to join their friend’s activity are keenly aware of it, if their friends post news of the event.
What worries me most for Amanda is research by Jean Twenge which states that teen depression and suicide has skyrocketed since 2011, when IPads and IPhones entered the scene. A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an IPhone. Teens are frequently on their phones, in their room, alone and often may be depressed. “The number of teens who get together with their friends nearly every day dropped by more than 40% between the years 2000 to 2015. Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on non-screen activities are more likely to be happy.”
My advice to Amanda is to use the IPod in moderation, limiting it to under two hours per day. Then put down the device and do something that does not involve a screen. I want her to fill her life with physical activities like sports, outdoor hobbies, or just hanging out with her friends, without a tablet or phone.