Research Review: Digital Kids, Part 2

In this next segment of Digital Kids by Martin Kutscher, MD, he delves into digital media’s effects on special populations, specifically very young children, children with ADHD and children with ASD.

Should toddlers be allowed to watch TV and/or be exposed to other forms of digital media?

The answer to this question is not as straightforward as you might think. While no screen time is recommended for children under the age of two and only educational programming for older toddlers, there is research that is beginning to suggest that interactive media (especially with a caregiver) may have positive learning effects even for much younger children. When it comes down to it, whether or not an infant or toddler watches educational TV is less important than parents regularly interacting with their child, reading together, and creating enough structured and unstructured play time during the rest of the day. Interpersonal relationships are the foundation of learning during this stage.

The real concern is “background television” (television that was not developed with very young children as the intended audience) and parental use of digital media. While these distractions are present, parents change the way that they talk with their very young children, and also children cannot “sink into” and focus on play. Bottom line? Turn off the TV when no one is watching, and record adult-directed programs to watch at another time.

I feel quite confident in these conclusions by Kutscher. They agree with other information that I had read previously while working with the Early Head Start program, including Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky and articles by researcher Lisa Guernsey.

Am I a bad parent if I leave the TV on or use a digital device as a “babysitter” while I take care of other needs?

In response to this question, Kutscher writes,

In the real world, parents do use media as a babysitter, and quite understandably so. Perhaps that break allows the parents to recoup, and thus be better parents…Just make sure that they still get plenty of your attention, time, conversation and play.

I hope that this comes as a reassurance to parents who are under stress and don’t have easy access to help from other caregivers.

My child has ADHD. What do I need to know?

ADHD makes it more difficult for a child to selectively control his or her attention, so a child with ADHD can’t help but pay attention to the most fascinating and/or interesting stimulus available. Guess what? Digital media is stimulating–very stimulating. Video gaming is especially rewarding, and unfortunately, it exacerbates the very symptoms that we are working to improve. Chances of developing a media/gaming addiction are 1 in 4 among these kids. The only positive noted was that gaming can be a more accepting social space for kids who struggle in real life social situations.

This was discouraging to me because both of my children have special needs that overlap significantly with ADHD. I can’t wait to get to Kutscher’s later chapters on how parents can help!

My child has ASD. What do I need to know?

Unlike children with ADHD, children with ASD experience more benefits with digital media although they also are at a higher risk for developing addictive behaviors. Because social interaction is narrowed down to only text, without nonverbal cues, it is much easier to communicate effectively and to develop more intimate relationships with friends and family with the support of social media. There is near-unlimited access to detailed information and research on favorite subjects. Watching shows together with their parents is even associated with better parent-child relationships!

The negatives? Risk of developing an addiction and sleep problems.

Next steps…

The final part of his book delves into parents’ roles in shaping their children’s experience of technology. One takeaway from today’s section, though, is that how children spend the rest of their day is, in fact, the most important. If they are using digital media, what are they not doing? What could they be doing instead?

And so, I leave you today with a lovely and very relevant quote by Helen Keller, which Charlotte Mason shares in her first volume on home education:

I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think, whereas if the child is left to himself he will think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things, and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.

 

We might replace “sitting indoors at a little round table” with “sitting indoors [in front of the television or tablet]” and the quote would still be accurate today!

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