Smart phones, tablets, video games and other technologies have made communication easier in the modern age -- but it's no secret that they're also changing the way people's brains are wired. If you're concerned about the effect modern technology is having on your kids, you probably should be; though not all of those effects are necessarily bad.
Technology has a huge effect on kids' cognition -- or the way they think -- and there are both good and bad effects, suggests Jim Taylor, Ph.D., in Psychology Today. Having access to so much information on the Internet can result in a shorter attention span, and children who are exposed to television during the first few years of their lives may have lowered cognitive development, according to research from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Still, technology is also rewiring kids' brains to multitask -- reviewing and processing information more rapidly. Since the Internet is not likely to go away, that's not necessarily a bad thing, Taylor suggests. Technology -- including video games and other screen-based media -- improves kids' reaction times and visual-spatial abilities.
The overuse of technology can also have an effect on kids' long-term health. Since kids are sitting in front of screens instead of doing something physical, the high obesity and child diabetes rates in the U.S. are related to using too much technology, says pediatric occupational therapist Cris Rowan in an article The Huffington Post. One study, looking at TV viewing among Hispanic children, and in particular children with TVs in bedrooms, found that 30 percent of the children were overweight or at risk of being so. A sedentary lifestyle puts kids at risk of a host of medical issues, including ADHD, depression, sleep disorders and learning and developmental delays, Rowan suggests.
Vision and Postural Concerns
Too much time spent in front of a screen can also have an impact on other parts of children's physical health; namely vision and posture. Prolonged screen time can lead to blurred vision, headaches, eyestrain and fatigue in children, according to a 2009 study published in the Greek medical journal Hippokratia. In addition, a 2007 study in the Czech Republic found that kids who frequently used computers and avoided sports had much higher instances of poor posture than the kids who did at least some sport activities. Good posture means proper alignment, which means the organs and nervous system are working optimally. Poor posture, on the other hand, compromises the body's overall health and efficiency, suggests the Kansas Chiropractic Foundation.
Using Technology Beneficially
If your children are over age 2, introducing technology can actually benefit their development. But be sure the technology has an educational purpose instead of being purely for entertainment. Also, avoid anything that is violent in nature. It's up to you to decide when to allow your kids to watch shows that are more "entertainment" and less educational, but in general, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time per day for both children and teens. It also encourages other healthy habits, such as reading, sports or playing outside. Reading from a book, as was the norm for kids in generations past, helped them develop a broader vocabulary, be more reflective and develop critical thinking skills. To get a good balance of technology and old-fashioned entertainment, try limiting your kids' screen time until they have read or played outside for a designated time.