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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Techno-Kids

Sitting at a recent school performance where my eight year old son was participating, I remarked at the amount of technology parents showed up armed with - digital video cameras, camera cell phones, digital still cameras - and we mused about being technologically-challenged. But the mom next to me was proud that her daughter (also age 8) was proficient at her cell phone, texting, iTunes, social networking, and all things high-tech. On the one hand, I felt woefully behind in keeping up with the Joneses and on the other, my brain was screaming "what does an 8 year old need a cell phone for?"

No doubt that kids today are far more technologically savvy than many of their parents. But is that always a good thing? News reports show that today's teens have taken on media as a "full time job", showing that kids age 13 to 18 spend more than 72 hours a week using electronic media. According to the report, 75 percent of teens spend at least 2 to 3 hours a day downloading or listening to music online and 68 percent of them have profiles on social networking outlets such as MySpace or Facebook. The Nielsen company assures us not to worry - teens are still engaged in "traditional" media such as watching TV and listening to the radio - in fact, television watching is up 6% in the past five years. None of this makes me feel any better as a parent, though.

Watching too much television has always been a concern of parents. We know that sedentary behavior is not good for our kids - or for us. But as a recent Time magazine report indicates, even television viewing is of great concern to children's health. Higher rates of tv-watching have correlated with higher blood pressure which, surprisingly, is not true for other inactivity such as playing video games or surfing the internet.

We have all heard reports about the radiation from cell phones being dangerous as well. According to Mercola.com, 20-60% of the radiation emitted from your cell phone is transferred to your head in use, exposing your brain to high levels of electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Even if you dispute the dangers of EMFs from your cell phone, ABC News has a whole host of reasons why your cell phone may not be good for your health - from transporting germs to causing accidents while driving or walking.

But what about social networking? Could it be unhealthy? Neuroscientists are starting to warn that social networking may actually be re-wiring children's brains to have shorter attention spans, an inability to empathize, and shaky self-identities. There is also a growing fear that we are creating a disconnect from the unpredictability and deepness of communication between human beings by promoting short snippets of chatter to fill our social time. Psychologist Aric Sigman also fears that social networking reduces our face-to-face contact with others which is essential to health and wellness. According to Dr. Sigman, more than 209 "socially-regulated" genes have been identified that are "involved in the immune system, cell proliferation, and responses to stress." These genes respond to social interaction and work to reduce inflammatory response or otherwise protect our health as a result of direct connection with real, live people.

Declining social interactions impact our health and the health of our communities, our towns, and ourselves. When we interact in person, we boost our immunity and gain value insights and lessons on human behavior. Technology has given us huge advantages and access to information but we need to balance it with personal time, an appreciation of nature, and time to connect, dream, and use our imaginations and creativity. Needless to say, my eight year old will not be getting a cell phone or a Facebook page anytime soon.

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