Thursday, 13 July 2017

Neural Pathways & Technology Dangers

An article arrived in my inbox this morning. I didn’t get to read it for some 7 hours which is probably a good thing as it would surely have distracted me from what I was doing.

The article addressed concerns of Psychologist, Sue Palmer.

 In 2006, Palmer’s book titled Toxic Childhood warned of the dangers of too much screen time on young people’s physical and mental health. At the time, her concern was more violent video games and too much TV; Facebook was still quite new and the smart phone was in its infancy.

I suspect she would be quite pleased if such distractions were the problem today.

Sue Palmer talks now about the use of IPads as a pacifier for toddlers. She evidences witnessing a toddler in a supermarket ‘making a scene’ when lollies are denied and being handed an IPad which instantly calmed them.

Further, she references research revealing 10% of children under the age of 4 being put to bed with a tablet computer to play with as they fall asleep. Staggering.

Palmer wishes the fact Steve Jobs didn’t allow his own children to have IPads had been public knowledge as this may have helped parents with their own decision making.  

But the real issue is that high levels of screen time in young children substituting for what she calls “real play”, slows the development of neural pathways.

Real Play is considered essential for children to develop curiosity, independent thought, problem solving skills and even the skills to enable enjoyment of real friendships.

Other adverse impacts include a very short attention span and poor concentration skills.

An experienced Teacher told me this afternoon how it has become increasingly difficult to engage children in learning without the intrusion of electronic media. Again, perhaps evidence of at best, ‘different’ neural development.

We are all busier than ever with forever increasing pressures on our time and resources. It can be a challenge for stressed parents to avoid the temptation to quickly return a child to a state of calm by use of a tablet or smart phone.

However, there appears to be growing evidence of an associated risk to their development.

I am also reminded of a Neuro Scientist I know who has had a long-term policy of a technology free Sunday in her household. No phones, tablet, computers, radio, internet or TV for 6 hours from 2pm every Sunday – no exceptions. She talks about it being an extra challenge for her teenage children as they reach the later years of secondary school but says they need to organise themselves so any weekend school work requiring internet of computer access is completed before 2pm each Sunday. 

This technology blackout has been family policy for more than 5 years making Sunday the most interesting, stimulating and communicative day of the week.

Interesting also was a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a 57-year-old. In discussion about a health matter I asked if he had noticed any drop of in his ability to concentrate. He said he had but also had decided this was a direct result of his habit of watching TV while playing on his IPad. He said his attention to nothing in particular had adversely impacted his attention span in everything he does.

His self-observation is most interesting, but also makes sense.

It is only a “sample of one” but it may well be that we should all be aware of our screen time.

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