Technology’s Deterioration of Childhood Recreation and the Battle for Bumps and Bruises

By Olivia Cerci

It was the third time that Emma* had a temper tantrum that day. And again, for the third time, the only thing that would calm her was her iPad. Regardless of the cause of her sorrows, the mesmerizing screen in front of her stifled her sobs, a tell-tale symptom of technology addiction. Emma, 3, her older sister Haley*, 4, and her younger brother James*, 1.5, all possessed iPads, each brightly clad in colorful foam cases.

Their screen time was unlimited and unrestricted, often “multi-screening:” watching TV while also fiddling with the apps in their laps. At mealtimes, the girls loved to watch YouTube videos of other children driving around in their newest full-size Barbie car or choosing a snack from the fridge. Instead of experiencing active, playful, essential elements of their childhood, these girls became onlookers to the lives of other kids.

Jaxon*, an 8-year-old boy, snuck back to the family’s TV room once again. He climbed up the couch to reach for his PS4 controller hidden atop the bookshelf. “5 more minutes,” his mother said when she left the house. Apparently, Jaxon had other ideas. While his younger sister wanted to play board games or run outdoors, Jaxon’s fun was restricted to the action his fingers could create on the TV. There seemed no chance of convincing him otherwise.  

Childhood Technology Addiction

The media habits of these children are not isolated, but they reveal a larger problem faced in the present day. While children in past years have enjoyed rough and tumble activities on the playground, arts and crafts sprawled out across the kitchen and engaging and activating their imaginations, now many seem content for a sedentary consumption of screens. The skinned knees and sticky hands that characterize childhoods of adventure are now becoming rare. 

21st-century technology has added another element to family life and child development that was not present (or dangerous) historically. Parents are asking questions such as, What is the right age to give a child a phone? How many hours of screen time a day is acceptable? Is technology good for my infant/toddler? An evaluation of the negative effects of technology use in the 1-10 year age range is essential to better caring for children we encounter and love.

On average, children spend about six hours a day on screens. TV, internet, mobile, video games, are components of this time. In 2014, 5 to 10-year-olds were spending almost 5 hours a day on screens. This consumption contributes to many negative effects: disturbed sleep patterns, slower social and behavioral development, and a decrease in physical health. Studies have shown that signs of technology addiction in children are trouble making friends, aggressive behavior, tiredness, and attention difficulties. 

The Return to Play

In order to prevent childhood technology addiction, or curb its development, it is important to limit screen time and accessibility, encourage creativity and time outdoors, and model responsible and restricted technology use.

Screen time can be limited by keeping all family devices in the same area and having designated “tech-free” times. Furthermore, waiting to purchase individual devices for kids until a necessary age, or holding off media until after homework and recreation are beneficial for weakening technology addiction. Experts say not to use technology as solutions to boredom, and to give them the freedom to explore the outdoors. 

With children growing up in a tech-saturated world, there is no way to avoid screens entirely. However, severely limiting their screen engagement will prove beneficial. Many ideas for encouraging children to play outside include getting wet and dirty, incorporating natural resources into play, building forts, picnics, and scavenger hunts.

These outdoor activities will encourage strength, community, curiosity and healthy maturity in children. They will certainly suffer some skinned knees for it, but their experiences and development will be all the better.   

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