Published: January 14, 2020
The world is changing—technology has developed rapidly in the last few decades and has greatly affected most aspects of human life. Human development theorists—who work to understand the different stages of life—are beginning to discuss how technology is shaping our lives from birth to adulthood. Pacific Oaks human development Professor Carlene Fider, Ph.D., and student Shey Quinton Olaoshebikan, Psy.D., did an analysis of research that focuses on the effect of technology on children for their paper, “An Analysis on Mobile and Interactive Media Use by Young Children: The Good, the Bad and the Unknown.”
“We wanted to look at these phenomena that we’re seeing that we can’t quite explain yet, but we know are absolutely having an impact on us. In the human development field, we are constantly assessing how different factors are contributing to the development of human beings across the world. And while a lot of research ignores the positive attributes that technology can give children, we wanted to look at it holistically to get a better picture,” Dr. Fider says.
Drs. Fider and Olaoshebikan suggest that one potential problem is a lack of self-regulation. They say that in years past, if a child was acting out at the grocery store, a parent might warn them to calm down or they were going to leave. But now, a normative response is to give the child a phone to calm down. The child then doesn’t learn how to deal with their emotional reactions or fight against these reactionary reflexes, but rather they can just be distracted. Research has shown that children can better self-regulate their emotions with safety blankets or stuffed animals, but recently the mobile phone has become the new safety blanket.
Drs. Fider and Olaoshebikan write, “When children are born, the primitive portions of their brain are capable of responding based on reflexes. As the child grows older, the brain begins to navigate more complex tasks and overtime; behaviors become less reflective and more intentional. The higher regions of the brain, the cortex, are responsible for purposeful behaviors and as such, are impacted by the use of technology.”
In a world that struggles with cyberbullying, angry tweets, and terrifying threats made behind anonymous avatars, the growing lack of self-regulation is hard to ignore. Combine with this the artificial nature of communicating online, it can be understandable for children to struggle to see the effects of these reactions.
Drs. Fider and Olaoshebikan also espouse the way that developing and understanding language can be affected when you lose the necessity of learning nonverbal communication. Written words on digital screens can teach a lot, but you cannot read someone’s intentions or tone the same way you can by seeing facial and body movements accompanying the words.
When looking at the way a child develops, technology can play a big role in providing opportunities that wouldn’t previously be available. Drs. Fider and Olaoshebikan point out that with the accessibility of the internet, children can see beaches and mountains, live stream kangaroo cams, and conversate with children who speak other languages thanks to real-time translation.
“Children’s brains are primed to receive and process information as they learn,” Dr. Olaoshebikan says. “Now, you have an opportunity to bring things outside of this child’s potential sphere of existence to them.
“This is the first era of children who are growing up where all they know is a world with technology, and the way that this world looks on tablets and mobile phones. So even before they’re able to speak, the part of the brain that develops speaking can be processing speech through what they’re looking at.”
The fact that this has an effect on human development everywhere is not widely debated, but just what those effects are is still being discovered.
There is no ignoring that technology is here to stay, but now the key is finding the best way to implement it in the healthiest manner for generations to come. The research of Drs. Fider and Olaoshebikan sums up that there are no easy answers. It is truly “the good, the bad, and the unknown.”
“Children’s media diet should contain open-ended, hands-on, imaginary, screen-free play. Children have access to a lot of passive entertainment, yet, there is little engagement in play that is active and that which is fueled by their imagination, which gives them opportunities to develop social, emotional, and cognitive skills that are necessary for a successful and fulfilling life,” they write in their conclusion.
Like most aspects of human development, by studying populations and different reactions for decades to come, theorists will continue to see results and formulate ideas for how the human race is constantly evolving based on our reliance on technology.
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