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Media technology is here to stay and has become a permanent part of our lives. But there is great concern about how it may be affecting our children. I believe we can learn to embrace its advantages, reduce its adverse effects and raise children who can still relate heart to heart with people, appreciate and participate in the beauty and wonders of nature and grow up to be well rounded, healthy, caring and compassionate adults. The challenge for parents is to understand the benefits and pitfalls of children’s technology use and to help their children create balance in their lives.
Why should we be concerned?
The amount of time children spend using media technology, including computers, cell phones, video games and MP3 players among others, is setting off alarms. The fear is not only that this technology is replacing physical and imaginative play, but that it also may be diminishing development of social skills, heart connection and empathy for others.
Children and teens between ages eight and 18 spend an average of seven hours and 38 minutes daily playing video games, going online and watching TV, and most have no household rules governing how much time they’re allowed to spend doing these things, according to the 2010 study, “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds,” conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Add to that the time spent eating, sleeping and attending school during the week, and little time is left for anything else such as playing outside or at the playground with other children, participating in athletics, socializing with friends and family or engaging in afterschool and weekend activities.
Studies over the past decade have concluded that a large number of adolescents and teens today are having difficulty identifying emotions in people, thus creating an inability to feel empathy toward others who may be feeling pain, sorrow, anger and other emotions. There is concern that excessive viewing of real or contrived violence online and/or playing video games that are violent or contain other age-inappropriate content could be numbing the sensitivities of young people, immunizing them from experiencing compassion and caring for others.
I strongly encourage parents and adults to closely monitor children’s media technology habits and the time they spend with media, beginning at an early age and continuing through adolescence and the teen years. It’s important to help children to create a balance between their relationship with technology and activities that nurture their social, emotional and physical skills.