I love technology. I wouldn’t have a job if I didn’t have a computer and internet service. I wouldn’t be able to do my job while traveling if I didn’t have a cell phone, access to wi-fi, and a laptop or tablet. I also wouldn’t get regular texts from my teenagers letting me know where they are, who they’re with, and what they’re doing. And 14 hours in a car with 4 kids and no Kindles, iPods, or a DVD player? That’s a nightmare I hope to never live through!
For all these reasons, I’m an unlikely advocate for taking a break from technology. The unfortunate reality is that too much technology has several negative effects on our children and our family life.
Negative Effects of Technology on Children
Obesity – Childhood obesity has doubled in children aged 6-11 and tripled in adolescents aged 12-19 over the past 30 years. More than one third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. This puts them at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and bone and joint problems. The shift from outdoor activities such as riding bikes and playing sports to indoor activities like playing video games and watching television has played a major role in the childhood obesity trend. At the very least, parents should require kids to turn off the technology for at least one hour each day to play outside or go for a walk, the minimum amount of physical activity prescribed by the CDC for children and adolescents.
Poor Academic Performance – Too much screen time (e.g. watching TV, playing video games, and surfing the internet) causes kids to perform poorly in school since it deteriorates their ability to focus. In addition, when kids aren’t forced to turn off the tech, they choose screen time over reading and writing, thereby diminishing those skills over time.
Violence – According to a survey conducted by A.C. Neilson Company, children will witness 8,000 murders (courtesy of TV and video games) by the time they finish elementary school. The amount of time spent watching television during adolescence has been shown to increase antisocial behavior such as aggression, assault, and robbery.
Impaired Face-to-Face Social Skills – The more time children spend on electronic devices, the less time they spend interacting face-to-face with others. They don’t learn to read non-verbal cues like tone and body language.
Negative Effects of Technology on Families
Fractured Relationships – The A.C. Nielson Company survey revealed that on average, parents spend less than four minutes PER WEEK in meaningful conversations with their children. How can parents possibly convey their values, expectations, and beliefs to their kids in 30 seconds a day? Likewise, they can’t possibly have a clear insight into what their children are thinking, wondering, and worrying about when everyone is spending more time watching TV, checking e-mails, texting, and playing games than talking to one another.
No Down Time – Now that almost everyone has a cell phone and an e-mail address, few of us ever get to enjoy a separation between our roles. You get texts from family members during a work meeting or calls from the office while you’re on vacation. The technological advances that have allowed us to communicate more efficiently have almost become a burden since it’s hard to force yourself to ignore text messages, phone calls, e-mails, etc. By unplugging for just one hour each day, you can make your family your priority and give yourself a mental break from the never-ending flow of information.
I’m not saying you should cancel your cable and cell phone subscription or donate all of your computers and video games. I do hope that I’ve helped you identify some of the dangers of relying too much on technology for your family’s main source of entertainment and social interaction. If you can manage to unplug from technology for just one hour a day, you can gain huge benefits to your family’s health and happiness.
If you’d like more information on why you should turn off technology or want some tips on how to do it, check out Tech Timeout, an initiative to encourage families to take a daily break from technology.