The iPad is harming our kids and they have no idea


Elizabeth McLaughlin, Staff

I am twenty years old and still learning how to use technology. Sure, I’m pretty adept at all the basics: Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Cloud, etc. I can even create (mediocre) animations on digital art software like Procreate. But I’m still — and likely always will be — learning how technology fits into my everyday life. I’m learning how to have a relationship with technology. I’m old enough to remember a time when social media didn’t exist. But I’m also not old enough to recall the days when computers weren’t woven into the very fabric of our daily lives. I’m positioned to have a relationship with technology that demands almost complete reliance, but not utter and perpetual immersion.

But the generations below me and my peers have been living in the heyday of social media since birth. My mom is a nanny and she has been with the same child for his entire life — seven years. I’ve gotten to see firsthand his introduction (at a very young age) to the iPad — and all the problems that ensued. I’ll preface this article by saying that I recognize the importance of and need for technology in our daily lives; I’m not longing for some pre-digital return to nature because I know it’s not possible. I’m simply noticing and reporting the detriments of constant exposure to technology.

The issues with childhood engagement with technology can be viewed from multiple angles. For one, it can interfere with their basic human functions, such as sleep. “Electronic stimulation has been shown to interfere with both falling and staying asleep,” according to Northwestern University’s parenting expert Katherine Lee. In fact, a study published by Pediatrics “found that children who sleep near a smartphone or another small-screen device get less sleep than kids who are not allowed to have these types of devices in their bedrooms.” If you’ve ever babysat a child, you know how hard it can be to get them to turn off the iPad. And if you’re trying to get them to turn it off because it’s bedtime? Good luck.

Jamie Grill/Getty Images

The average child is saturated with screen time every single day; their reliance on these devices has detrimental effects.

So it’s clear that the simple act of sitting in front of a screen can cause issues. But what about what’s on the screen? Any time anyone engages with technology, there are two parties involved: on one side of the screen, there’s a supercomputer pointed at your brain, trying to figure out the perfect next thing to show you. On the other side of the screen is our prefrontal cortex, which evolved millions of years ago to do its best job at goal articulation, goal retention, staying on task and self-discipline. This is true for all of us who have brains. But imagine it’s not you, it’s a seven-year-old, or a five-year-old, or even a two-year-old. At that age, I was playing with Lincoln Logs and American Girl Dolls — neither of which had supercomputer powers.

As a twenty-year-old, I’ve had time to learn how to differentiate information that benefits me from information that harms me. But kids haven’t had that time yet. In 2015, Aaron Mackey was a graduate fellow at Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation. He was part of a coalition that included the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy. The coalition alleged that “it’s deceptive to tell kids that this [YouTube] is a safe product… Anyone, with just a little bit of searching, can find a lot of inappropriate content.”

Moreover, the infinite possibilities offered by YouTube can cause addiction. According to the American Addiction Center, those with higher addiction risk are unable to self-regulate, impulsive and lack a strong sense of moderation. YouTube’s recommendation algorithm doesn’t want you to self-regulate; it wants to regulate for you. Its algorithm wants you to impulsively click on whatever catches your eye because that’s how it builds a profile on you. Its algorithm rejects moderation in favor of saturation. And yet, we’re placing it in the tiny hands of our precious kids. Sleep issues, inappropriate content and addiction — the gamut doesn’t stop there; these are just three angles from which one can view the greater problem of technological saturation. Kids aren’t the only victims; everyone who engages with technology is susceptible to these ailments. But kids are the most unaware. They have no idea what any of the iPad implications are, but they are sincerely affected by them. They’re just kids and it’s our job to care for them. After having only scratched the surface on this topic, I’m questioning whether giving our kids iPads is a good idea. In fact, I know it’s a terrible idea — but we’re going to keep doing it. So how can we ensure that our kids don’t ruin their sleep schedule and develop an addictive personality while viewing inappropriate content online? I’m only twenty years old and I don’t plan on having kids for a while, but I sincerely hope I’m able to answer that question by then.

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