| December 3, 2013

Shan, Xin

Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair’s “Mary Had a Little iPad” lecture at the 92Y presented a compelling case regarding the harm/disadvantage of screen technology (such as iPad and smartphone) for both children and adults and offers us with possible solutions/guidelines.

Some of the most common examples with the lost of control over screen technology could be seen at two levels. First, Dr. Steiner-Adair addresses the adult level with examples of addictive/dependent behaviors: anxious being without iPad/smartphone (taking devices to the bathroom), first thing in the morning reaching for the iPad/smartphone, can not put down the iPad/smartphone, and lying about iPad/smartphone usage. Second, with an unhealthy relationship with screen technology, adults also bring their behaviors into the children’s level. Parents often using screen technology as a “pacifier” instead of spending time with their children. During the day, when parents do have a chance to interact with their children (during pick-up from school), parents still have difficulty to completely get off their iPad/smartphone; so children need to compete with these devices to get their parents’ attention. At the times when parents use screen technology, the screen technology also create a sense of urgency that make parents’ response to children in a tone of voice that are unwelcoming. Again this is creating a barrier between parents and children relationships.

The combined results from both the adult’s and children’s unhealthy addiction/dependency of screen technology could be found in social-emotional, psychological, and neurological harm to children. Before six-year-old, children need to have critical time with parents to interact and to develop a healthy social-emotional character. When both parents and children use excessively screen technology, time is being robbed from the children’s critical development. From a psychological perspective, children are also forming a dependency with screen technology for stimulation; and in the worst cases, children as young as five-year-old have ­shown signs of addiction. Also the psychological affect of being neglected should not be overlooked. Lastly children’s neurological development for reading and language is located in a different area of the brain than what is used with screen technology. In the recent years, there are more and more children diagnosed with ADD and ADHD. It is time for us to consider if the addiction to technology is playing a role of rewiring children’s brain to function like ADD or ADHD.

With the coming of the digital age, the usage of screen technology will only increase, and become more widely accepted. However there are ways to set up healthy boundaries/usage behaviors. Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair has outlined practices for teachers, parents, and children. For teachers, it is important to show parents the facts that screen technology is proven both to be harmful and not helpful in the development of early childhood education. Teachers can start to ask parents questions about what their children like to do on screen, and then refer to the research on children’s usage of screen technology. It is important for parents to know that children learn to build up relationships through playing in social interactions, not from interaction with technology. For parents, there is a need to set up boundaries for screen technology usage. In order to nurture a health family relationship between parents and children, parents had to set up schedule of being off-screen entirely. Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair suggests parents to be off-screen when the children are awake at home. It is important to build up a verbally rich and highly responsive family environment where children feel that they matter the most.

At the end of the lecture, Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair draws our attention to the importance of social/emotional competence in the real world. Currently many top U.S. universities are changing their admission criteria to look for students with better social/emotional competence rather than just focus on their skilled-based standard test scores. Therefore, it is very important for us to help children develop their social skills in the early years of their lives through interactions with their family members and friends.