Screens and technology are not always a bad thing, but various studies have come out showing that excessive use of screens can hurt our children. We now have screen dependency disorder as well as a gaming disorder, both of which are characterized by detrimental behavior patterns.
Now a leading British neuroscientist is warning us that social media and video games can have an adverse effect on the mental and emotional maturity of children, that could leave them with a 3-year-old’s mentality.
“What I predict is that people are going to be like three-year-olds: emotional, risk-taking, poor social skills, weak self-identity and short attention spans,” said Baroness Susan Greenfield, a former director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.
Greenfield, who is also a senior research fellow at Oxford University, expressed her concern that children are growing up with a lack of communication skills and without the ability to think for themselves, as they are constantly looking for a distraction, reports The Independent.
She backed up her claims with a 2014 study conducted by psychologists at Virginia and Harvard Universities, which found that “students would prefer to give themselves a mild electric shock than to be left alone to think without distractions for 10 minutes.”
This need for constant stimulation every single moment implies that people nowadays are no longer able to contemplate their thoughts and be left alone, according to Greenfield. This is especially harmful to children.
As an alternative, Greenfield suggested activities like gardening, sports, and reading, be introduced to children in order to lessen screen time and stimulate their imaginations.
Mom Loraine Balita-Centeno tried digital detox on her 6-year-old son after noticing that he was becoming too dependent on his gadgets. “He wakes up earlier than everyone else and heads straight to the drawer to get his iPad,” she writes in an article for SmartParenting.com.ph. He was prone to mood swings, temper tantrums, migraines, and irritability. He was also unable to focus on tasks and barely talks to his family members.
It was a difficult journey, but Loraine’s son was able to get through it. “We had to spend more time with him to help him make sense of the changes and answer his questions. We had to give him lots of hugs and encouragement, too,” Loraine writes.
The most difficult part was keeping their son entertained and occupied for a long time. But he soon found ways to entertain himself — he started noticing toys he hasn’t played with in a while, says Loraine. He also started playing with his 3-year-old sister more.
Reducing gadget use has significant benefits to children, according to Tanya Goodin, a digital detox expert who founded the digital detox movement Time to Log Offand who authored the book Stop Staring at Screens.
“A study from UCLA found that children who had all digital devices removed from them for a week were better able to read non-verbal communication in others than a group of children who carried on using screens,” she tells The Independent.
“When you think about what an important life skill reading body language is for life, work, school, and relationships, then alarm bells do start to ring on some of the long-term implications of screen overuse.”
Being away from gadgets definitely did some good to Loraine’s son. Before, he would get mad at little inconveniences like losing power on his iPad and an unstable Internet connection. After the digital detox, he was less irritable and doesn’t get bored quite as much. “He has become more patient, calmer and much more relaxed,” Loraine wrote. “He’s able to sit and wait longer.”
He also gained a more active lifestyle, choosing to spend his energy on running around the house and interacting with his family. Lastly, he opened himself up to learning new things, like doing chores and learning to cook and bake. It was like he was seeing things from a fresh perspective.
The prospect of weaning kids off their gadgets, especially if you’ve also come to see them as your child’s “babysitters,” may sound like a herculean task. But we can all agree that we all need a balanced use of technology. Remember: be patient, consistent, and firm.