Our techie lives: Are we getting it right?

Where my son attends school, we only get to meet his classmates’ parents and teachers about once every quarter and probably once or twice more for special programs. I always notice how different it was when it was my mom attending Parent-Teacher Conferences in my school. The parents used to talk and knew each other quite well. We don’t. I can’t even remember majority of their faces and there are only about 25 students in class. Nobody talks anymore.  Everybody is staring on their screens — sons and daughters beside them, tinkering their own gadgets.

Are we babysitting our children with gadgets?  How is it affecting our health and relationships?  Is it limiting or helping our children’s smarts?

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Currently, an estimated 7.4 billion people are roaming the earth.  3.5 billion or, roughly half of whom, are interacting online in various ways.  A third of those who have Internet access are connected with some form of social media.

In the Philippines, 44.4 million, also roughly half of its 102 million population, have Internet access and 47 per cent are interacting on social media.  According to the 2016 Report of We Are Social, we spend 3.7 hours on social media, the highest number in the world; an estimated 74 per cent of Filipinos are mobile users; and, on the average, we spend 5.2 hours on our laptops and desktops, and another 3.2 hours on our mobile devices.

In the US, a study conducted by the non-profit, Common Sense, in 2015 revealed that teens (13 to 18 years) get 9 hours of screen time, on the average, while their tween counterparts (8 to 12 years) get 6 hours.  You know what’s even worse, their parents could be spending more time onscreen.  In a report made by market research think-tank, Nielsen, American adults spend at least 11 hours on their gadgets everyday!  In a recent report commissioned by Nokia, researchers noted that the study’s subjects checked their mobile phones 150 times a day.

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The experts are asking the same questions we, parents, are also worried about.  In 2013, the growing trend in gadget use was the subject of a policy statement made by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  The statement indicated that children below two years old should not get any screen time.  Unfortunately, the same statement does not provide guidelines for tweens and teens.  It does, however, also recommend parents not to install either TV nor Internet access in their children’s bedrooms.

Child development experts are only beginning to recognize the possible issues around children’s cognitive and overall development in relation to tech gadget use.  A quick search of available studies on this area took hours to finally return very limited results.  That said, we’re all in the dark.

One of the studies we’ve come across with was the “Direct Measurements of Smartphone Screen-Time: Relationships with Demographics and Sleep” published in 2016.  A reported 653 participants  were observed.  The study concluded that there is a strong association between screen time and poor sleep.

In another 2015 study published in the journal, Computers in Human Behavior, it was concluded that media consumption among children (4 to 8 years) and pre-teens (9 to 12 years) resulted to ill-being, defined in the study as encompassing psychological, physical, behavioral and attention aspects. As for teens (13 to 18), every aspect of media use was a factor that contributed to ill-being.

In “Sleep and use of electronic devices in adolescence: results from a large population-based study”, researchers found out that gadget use can delay a teenager’s sleep by an hour.

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What we know so far are inconclusive.  Some experts are pointing out the potentially negative impact of too much screen time on a child’s cognitive, affective, verbal and behavioral development because of the limited interaction of the child with other human beings.  Some experts, on the other hand, are pointing out the unprecedented stimulation young minds are getting from various apps on our devices.

Maybe the debate can find middle ground after all.  Might moderation be the key? Maybe. Since gadgets are also now being attached to the word, “addiction”, perhaps taming our children’s and our own appetites for tinkering our gadgets is the solution that we’re looking for.  The next question now is how do we make the leap?

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