Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kids and Electronics

A new study, published online yesterday by the journal Pediatrics, found that kids who spend more than 2 hours per day in front of the television or computer "were at greater risk of having psychological problems." The study found that "the risk of psychological difficulties increased by about 60 percent" for kids between 10 and 11 who spent more than 2 hours plugged in. Among the psychological difficulties cited were "hyperactivity, difficulty with peers and friends, poor conduct and antisocial kinds of behaviors."

Newsworthy, certainly. Surprising? Not so much. What is surprising is the degree to which our kids are engaged in electronic media. A study out earlier this year found that "kids 8 to 18 years old devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes daily to media use, or about 53 hours a week, which is more than a full-time job." From television and computers to iPods and cell phones, our kids are walking, talking, playing, and connecting electronically all day long - at home and at school. And so are we. As adults, if we counted up the number of times we check email, tweet, or scan our Facebook pages, watch the news, or listen to music, we'd also be pretty amazed at the results. We have only one television in our home, shocking by today's standards, according to the cable service representative who was here just last week, but one PC, three laptops, an iPhone, cell phones, an iPod and who knows how many other gadgets - and that's just for the two adults in residence. It's hypocritical for us to ban and limit electronics in our children's world when we are always plugged in. Even when we do place limits, our kids have smart boards and computers in their school systems and engage in electronics throughout the day. We are teaching them to plug in and connect all the time. Stand in line anywhere - your grocery store, coffee shop, or at the bank and count the people waiting who are plugged in. They're checking their emails, listening to music, talking on their cell phones - and so are we. I picked up a stuffed animal at the toy store the other day and it came complete with a USB cable to download music, my son's name, and monitor his play experience. Seriously! And I thought it was just a toy dog.

So how is it surprising that our kids are surrounded by electronics? It's not. We're setting the examples for them and they are taking it all in. But should we? Are we putting their psychological and physical well-being at risk? Many experts think so. An article in The New Atlantis from 2007 cites the "limited and repetitive activity" of children engaging in electronic toys and notes the limited social interaction, shorter attention spans, and lack of dramatic and creative play among younger generations. High-tech toys are not going to disappear, nor is our fast-paced electronic world. So what's a parent to do? Focus on balance, the experts recommend. Limit your child's exposure and provide basic toys that empower them, feed their creativity and imagination, and allow them to manipulate and control their environment. When kids - and adults - expect everything to happen at the push of a button and to sit back and simply be entertained, we're all at risk. Be a model for your kids and engage in a creative hobby or pursuit. Remember that they mimic what they see. Unplugging, slowing down, and taking time to connect would do us all some good!

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