A recently release study out of London claims that toddlers and children who are exposed to a few hours of tablet use per day can require a heavy digital detox, and experience withdrawal symptoms similar to those felt with drug or alcohol addictions.
Noted in the British newspaper The Mirror, the study author, psychiatrist Dr. Richard Graham, is reportedly treating a four-year-old right now, and alleges that if she continued the same four-hour-per-day iPad access she was used to for the next seven years, she could eventually require in-patient care. Take this with a grain of sale, considering that the psychiatrist offers this “digital detox” program himself, and it runs upwards of $24K per month to “wean” the kids off digital devices, much like one would be weaned off drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes.
Regardless of the level of truth or elaboration in the study, however, it does beg the question: are kids using too much technology, or being exposed to it at too young an age?
As a new parent myself, I find that it would be impossible, and perhaps even counter-intuitive, to try and shelter my son from technology. It’s the foundation of virtually every facet of life. It’ll be required in schools, required in work, and required as part of every day social interactions going forward. I do agree, however, that parents should not be shoving an iPad, iPhone, Nintendo DS, or countless other electronic devices, in front of a child’s face as a go-to tool to keep him busy.
Full disclosure here: my almost 16-month old is an expert at the iPad/iPhone. He knows how to swipe to unlock it, how to navigate through screens and photos, how to click on an app, then click out of it. If we’re at a restaurant and he’s getting bored, I won’t hesitate to let him play one of his educational alphabet or number learning apps for a short time. But what I don’t do is replace this for personal interaction. I try to limit his tech involvement to 20-30 minutes per day. And when I see signs of him needing a “fix;” i.e. throwing a small tantrum, crying and pointing, or trying to reach for it, I know it’s time to set some boundaries and keep him away from it for a while.
But it isn’t his fault. His father and I are constantly connected, on our phones, our iPads, our laptops. His grandpa is an iPad fanatic, constantly on his, too. Everywhere he goes, in fact, he sees people with smartphones and tablets in their faces. So how is he to understand? It’s like holding a scrumptious chocolate cupcake in front of your child, savouring every bite, licking the icing, picking off the sprinkles and eating them one by one, but telling your child “sorry, none for you.”
So what do we, as a society, do? Parents need to limit the amount of exposure children have to technology, no matter what age. But they must also lead by example and limit their own use. Ask any half-sensible dietician, nutritionist, health care professional, and they’ll tell you anything is OK in moderation. You don’t need to shield your children from technology, especially when it’s going to be such a big part of their lives as they get older. But you can put limits on it, just like you’d put limits on how many times your kids can eat McDonalds, or have chocolate, or how late they can play outside with their friends, how much TV they can watch (yet another tech culprit,) or how many turns they can have on the Merry-Go-Round.
Most important, however, is that you can, nor should, ever replace the intimate, tech-free time you spend with your kids. If your kid spends 20 minutes playing with the iPad, you’d better be sure to spend twice or three times that playing with him one-on-one. In fact, try interacting with him while he’s engaged with the technology, so he realizes the importance of social interaction as well, no matter how entrenched technology is in daily life.
According to Dr. Graham, not getting that balance right can be “very dangerous.”
Those dangers are already apparent as you attend social gatherings, and see kids with their eyes and hands glued to portable gaming devices, never interacting with others. Or stroll the streets and shopping malls and spots kids playing on an iPad whilst in their strollers. I’ll reiterate: there’s nothing wrong with either. As long as the kid can easily put down the device, too, and understand that balance. But mom and dad, you need to understand it, too. And you don’t need a detox program to get it. Just a little bit of common sense.