Discusses how early exposure to technology can negatively affect a child's activities.
Professor Corri Wells
The Hidden Demons of Technology and Youth
Technology has become more advanced than people could have ever imagined. Companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google seek to gain more occupation of rapidly growing market. Alexander Graham Bell's outdated telephone has been surpassed; first by the cellphone and now by the smartphone. The smartphone universe is growing larger by the second. Smartphones are getting larger, thinner, and faster. I didn't have a phone until the end of middle school; I stayed after school for clubs, so contacting my parents was important. My parents took this quite literally, and gave me a phone with little functionality. A simple pressure touch phone barely capable of accessing the internet. I appreciated that I did not have a fancy smartphone because my phone's simplicity kept me focused. No distractions. Nowadays, young children are getting exposed to technology that extends far beyond my simple phone. Children are operating advanced smartphones by the age of ten, and are addicted to iPads, iPhones, and other devices. I believe that this overexposure negatively impacts their attitude, athleticism, and maturity.
In the summer of 2015, my seven-year-old cousin and his family stayed at our house for two weeks. This visit opened my eyes to young children's overexposure to technology. The boy walked into my house, eyes submerged into his iPad's massive screen; he made contact with no one until his mother ripped the iPad from his hands. I witnessed a fit of rage, and sadness overcome him. A swift glare from his mother, however, kept him from a breakdown. He begrudgingly greeted everyone then plopped himself down on the couch, and waited for his iPad to reappear. I was instantly eager to discover what on his iPad had gotten him so hopelessly addicted. Minutes later he regained his iPad privileges from his mother and was swept back into a void. I placed myself to his right on the couch and found the answers to my questions. A boy, barely seven years old, hopelessly addicted to Geometry Dash. A game that may sound educational, but is far from it. The word "geometry" is especially misleading. While the game does include basic shapes such as squares and triangles, it does not teach geometry to young children. The objective of the game is to bounce over triangular spikes and other abstract objects to reach the end of the level. My cousin, attempting to complete his current level, had a look of pure determination. Endlessly failing, restarting, and failing again.
My cousin remained Super Glued to his iPad through dinner. His mom fed him while he battled away on his iPad trying to complete the level. I flashed back to my childhood, when I sat exactly where he sat, my overexcitement overcoming my need for food. My mother attempted to feed me my lunch; I ran back and forth from the kitchen to the family room to construct my Lego Death Star. Mom irately sat me down and kept me there until I finished my food. I was four. Now I was seeing a similar scenario in a small child nearly twice that age playing while eating his food. Everyone else finished their dinner and started to get on with the chore of rinsing the dishes and loading the dishwasher. The boy sat at the table, continuing to play and finish his dinner. His mother fed him a bite, and a long two minutes passed until she fed him another. The other members of his family joined us in the family room, where we chatted. The boy was eating at an alarmingly slow rate. He exclaimed, "I'm not hungry anymore..." in a distracted whine as his mother attempted to feed him another bite. His plate was barely half empty. I continued to see this trend for the next few days. I was dismayed. Eating well is a significant part of a child's mental growth. A good meal refreshes the body, therefore reactivating essential neurons for brain functions. My cousin neglected this concept, and spent his days laser focused on a mobile game.
The third day, he woke up and brushed his teeth, then joined us downstairs. He begged for his beloved iPad from his mother, but she refused. "Not now, you just woke up," she said. The seven-year-old, now comfortable in a new environment, proceeded to have the mental breakdown of a three-year-old. I stood in the kitchen, judging as the situation unfolded. Not to say that I did not cry when I was seven, but not for something as trivial as an iPad. Usually I cried because I had wiped out on my bike or scraped my knee. He cried, angry that his mother was obstructing him from his enjoyment. I hated to see him cry - I felt for the kid, but I said nothing. I could already see his maturity being affected by his days on the iPad. It seemed like crack cocaine, and he was in withdrawal. The shiny white device eluded the boy, and he felt lost without it. A "want" for the device, quickly turned into a "need". I witnessed a desperation for something I never felt the need for. I asked the boy's older sister, "Does this happen a lot?" Her response was not surprising: "It happens all the time." My cousin's attitude constantly changed throughout the day. I suspect now that overexposure to his iPad had affected his mental growth, but more importantly it had corrupted his attitude. He did not seem to be very happy without an early fix of his iPad.
By his fifth day in my house, I had seen enough. I wanted to help this kid. After lunch he sat on the couch for his iPad session. I stood in front of him, "Hey, do you want to go play some soccer outside?" I urged. To my surprise, he agreed. I went to the garage and grabbed my soccer ball, and we adjourned to the backyard to kick it around. Ten minutes passed, and my cousin was winded. We kicked the ball around, nothing more. He went back inside, grabbed a glass of water and sat back down on the couch. This seven-year-old was shorter than average and smaller than average, and he had less endurance than I had ever seen in a child.
Once more, I flashed back to my early days when I played travel soccer and went to games and tournaments all over my region. The reason that I was so active was that I was not suffering from a technological addiction. In my free time I played outside with my friends which was both socially and physically beneficial. Inactivity at a young age could lead to complications in the future such as obesity or heart problems. While I wasn't any sort of Pele or Ronaldo, it was normal for a child my age to have an active life, or so I thought.
In kindergarten I befriended my neighbor, a non-active gamer type. As the years passed, I noticed that he was never outside, always inside jabbing at his computer keyboard. He was a stellar student, at least when he attended school. Many days he stayed at home because of sickness, common illnesses that his body could not handle. I often wondered whether his addiction to computer games kept him indoors and weakened his immune system. For ten years I observed how he developed into an antisocial, egocentric teenager with poor hygiene. Reflecting on myself and my peers, I hope that my cousin finds a way to be physically active.
Technology itself is not a demon: it can be extremely proactive. Geometry Dash has improved my cousin's ability to focus and finish projects efficiently. He loves to solve puzzles, and he finishes them quickly. However, the drawbacks seem to outweigh the benefits. He has a mixed attitude throughout the day, and these mood swings affect the restrictions that his parents place upon him. He is less active than a normal child: he does not boast the physical build of a seven-year-old, nor does he have the endurance one would expect of a child his age. The impediment on his mental growth is the most obvious. He has emotional breakdowns when separated from his iPad, and he is not maturing on his own. These factors can lead to a number of problems in his future, a scary future, where technology will be even more prevalent. Children should be limited in their use of technology, and should be encouraged to participate in activities that can strengthen their body and social skills.