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Electronic Devices: The Elephant in the Room

Updated: Nov 20, 2021

Many parents today assume that technology is a gateway to advancing learning in their children. It is estimated that 67% of parents whose children use electronic media believe that it helps their child’s learning. However, student school performance throughout this nation does not support this assumption. The reality is that the negative impact associated with technology has snuck up at a pace that has caught many off guard.


Learning is the acquisition of knowledge or skill through study. Study requires contemplation, time, attention, examination, and analysis. Children who spend extended periods of time on electronic devices actually decrease their ability to concentrate, focus and actively engage in the process of learning.


While technology should enhance learning, educators are seeing first-hand that you cannot enhance what is not there to enhance. Technology has replaced learning how to think for oneself. High school English teachers regularly see students who cannot grasp the concept of a research paper; students who struggle to adequately process information, analyze events, connect ideas, summarize, make inferences, etc. Knowing where to look is becoming more important than knowing specific information. If students cannot Google answers directly, they are at a complete loss. They are not truly learning because they are not studying.


Researchers and pediatricians warn against putting devices in the hands of young children during their formative years when brain development is critical. Electronic devices can easily become a substitute for standard childhood play. Traditional play is the work of childhood and the foundation for developing socialization and problem-solving skills fundamental to healthy development. Imaginary play is especially important. Because digital forms of play require no imagination, over time, the portions of the brain used in imaginary thought become underutilized and underdeveloped.


In many homes electronic devices are used as babysitters. Infants and toddlers cease to solicit attention from their parents when given the opportunity to engage instead with an electronic device. Once children are engaged with a screen, parents will often do the same. For many young children, screen time has become the competition and/or substitution for parent time. By the time parents wake up to what is happening and attempt to have a meaningful conversation with their child, the response may well be indifference, disinterest, or both.


Electronic device usage that goes unchecked in children can lead to aggression, confrontational behavior, and addiction. The key to prevention lies in parents setting the stage for technology use in the home when children are young, enforcing proper guidelines and exhibiting strong parental leadership. Parents who wait until their children reach the middle or high school years to attempt to take charge will likely be hit with frustration and disappointment. More than a few parents, concerned that technology use has all but ruined their child, have been forced to seek outside assistance when efforts to take their child’s cell phone or iPad away resulted in the child becoming irate, even violent!


The time has come for parents to step up to the plate with unwaivering determination to do whatever it takes to establish and enforce appropriate technology guidelines for their children; actions that may require enforcing tighter time limits, closer monitoring of content and possibly terminating the use of devices when observing concerning behaviors such as excessive amounts of time on devices, mood swings, anger, aggression, isolation, poor school performance, and disinterest in other activities. Worth noting is that the type and degree of pushback a child exhibits when parents enforce new guidelines may be the clearest indicator of the degree to which devices are impacting the child.


While society looks the other way, digital dependency is taking hold of many young children and teenagers. Certainly, electronic devices and other forms of technology are here to stay, as are alcohol, drugs, tobacco, gambling, cars.... All have the potential to become dangerous. We owe it to our children to properly educate them on the benefits as well as the dangers of technology and be diligent overseers. To stand firm in the face of naysayers and social pressure requires parental strength, determination, and confidence. In the end, we reap what we sow. Winning this battle will be well worth the fight.


© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, February 2, 2021