Massachusetts Daily Collegian

How young is too young for technology?

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As I was sitting under the tree this Christmas, I handed a small, flat present to my three-year-old cousin Miyah. Excited, she immediately tore open the gift. She placed her tiny fingers on the smooth surface and swiped up and down to no avail. She began to cry.

Miyah was trying to swipe on a book.

The holidays have come and gone, but the growing burden of technology on children is here to stay. Through recent years, the expeditious rise of technology giant Apple has made it nearly impossible to reach the end of a conversation without someone looking at their phone.

According to Ben Lovejoy of 9to5Mac.com, the average smartphone user spends about two hours and 15 minutes each day staring at their phone. This equates to one month of the year spent looking at our screens. But this obsession has arguably the greatest impact on young children.

Call me old-fashioned, but having young children sit around like mindless zombies in front of a screen is just not right. Current undergraduate students constitute much of the final generation of individuals who weren’t surrounded by Apple products for the entirety of their lives. Most of us didn’t receive our first phones until the beginning of high school or the end of middle school—times when we really began to need them. Even then, your first phone was probably a Motorola Razr or MV3 that you encrusted with stickers and jewels.

Instead of sitting around a screen all day, we were forced to use this crazy tool called our imagination and physically interact with each other. Now, Apple has truly changed the game. Unfortunately, it’s rare to go out to dinner today and not see a toddler watching TV on their iPad instead of just sitting and eating.

This excessive tablet and smartphone usage is causing younger children to become more isolated, which can lead to developmental damage. Babies learn quickest by watching adults and replicating, but the constant focus on a tablet will interrupt this parent-child relationship that should be taking place, hindering socialization and physical replication.

Presented at the 2017 Academic Pediatrics Societies Meeting, a new study evaluated over 900 six-month-old to two-year-old babies using parent-recorded data. Striking findings concluded that the more access the baby had to handheld devices, the more likely they were to endure speech delays.

But there is a fine line between being too young for tablets and smartphones and being able to actually benefit from them, because tablets are not always poor for child development. If used in a correct manner, technology can actually advance the learning of children in school settings.

A small 2012 study assigned iPads to 129 kindergarteners and required them to use learning technology in class, while 137 students were taught without an iPad. At the end of the nine-week study, results concluded that children who used the iPads, on average, outperformed students without iPads on every literacy test observed.

At this age, children are beginning to develop their learning patterns. For visualizers, this educational technology is a gift.

Time devoted to iPad or smartphone usage should be granted in moderation, and only at appropriate times of the day for children who are beginning school. Apps on an iPad or tablet when being used by children should be, for the most part, educational.

In a sense, tablet usage for purposes other than learning should be given out as a reward for good behavior or accomplishing a goal, such as becoming “potty-trained.” As hard as it is to deny a crying baby who wants to play with an iPad, it’s important for their physical and social development that we withhold this technology from them.

Gretchen Keller is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

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