When you’re in a restaurant, or an airplane or in a mall, do you ever wonder why little kids are being so quite and well behaved? Or in the reverse scenario, when little kids are kicking and screaming, raging against their parents, do you ever think, geez why don’t the parents just give them an iPad to shut them up? Both of these situations are common sights in society today; where every child under the age of 10 has access to some sort of digital device. More surprisingly, they know how to use it more efficiently than any number of us can. I have older siblings subsequently making me an aunt to three nieces and 4 nephews, all under the age of 11. Every single one of them know how to use social media and digital devices better than I do; I distinctly remember my niece at 2 years old knowing how to unlock an iPad with a 4-digit code and my 6-year old nephew who checked news sources daily on Twitter (he’s 11 now and sort of smarter than all of my siblings collectively, so might have been a good thing?).
This may not seem inherently odd to most of us now, however, upon being shocked by this I thought to myself…I never knew how to do any of that. As a 90’s kid, I would play outside on bikes, draw, creating stories with my dolls and race indoors with my little sister (although that technically wasn’t allowed in my household); none of these activities were electronically driven by any means. Kids today don’t really share the same experiences when it comes to wanting to participate in those kinds of activities, more often than not they are glued to a screen.
Do these tendencies have any effect on their development?
Being a witness to various parents of kids growing up in this technologically driven society, the question of whether or not being digitally savvy and present on social platforms affects a child’s development and mental health is always asked. Young minds are especially moldable and children tend to mimic the actions and behaviors of others, without being able to discern good and bad. The scope of information available to them when browsing the web or other social sites is not in anyone’s control; it can lead to them encountering accounts or sites with graphic or inappropriate content. Addiction can also manifest itself when spending too much time on these sites, and lead to behaviors such as having to habitually check on social sites. Similarly, the scope of influencers on social media and the internet is immeasurable, and with the good come the bad. Others’ online behavior is easily accessible and can influence that of a child’s, not only because they do not know any better but because it is their tendency to emulate others’ actions. Moreover, the aspect of indirect communication that these social and digital contexts enable is also of concern to parents and has been studied. Children who spend too much time on social sites display nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expressions and vocal reactions are rendered invisible in conversation because they are accustomed to having conversations indirectly. The most significant worry is the ability for children to develop strong interpersonal relationships. Normally, children develop these skills by interacting with one another as well as adults by being aware of the actions and behaviors they are performing and simply by playing, whereas these interactions are limited when consumed with digital devices. On average, children spend a little more than 7 hours a day interacting with digital and social media, a number which I found to be slightly shocking. These hours take away from the time that they could be developing interpersonal relationships and social skills to communicate in person.
Another aspect of developmental concerns amongst children is that of deteriorating mental health. Everyone is familiar with the saying “ignorance is bliss”, however, social media makes ignorance impossible. A 2015 UK Office of National Statistics study concluded that children who spend more than 3 hours each school day on social media sites are more than twice as likely to suffer poor mental health. This can be exhibited in a number of forms such as depression, anxiety, lack of contentment; the level of these effects tend to go up with extended use of social media and digital consumption. Social platforms also enable the proliferation of cyber bullying. Because there is no privacy when all your information is displayed for your entire network and beyond to see, it is open season for bullies to harass others. Because there is the idea of being able to hide behind a screen name or a profile, studies have found that bullies are more ruthless online because they do not see the physical or mental damage they create. Another developmental concern is that of body image and confidence. With pop culture plastered in every corner of the internet, models, actresses, and fitspo influencers are constantly challenging the body image norm in the minds of young girls. Because what is shown online and social is highly curated and sometimes even not real, many girls have distorted ideas of what they are supposed to look like or feel shamed if they are not developing at the same rate or in the same way.
Are There Positive Benefits?
Although there are several detrimental effects that social media and digital consumption can have on the development of children there are also some beneficial ones. These outlets and platforms serve as an open forum for vast amounts of information. This not only enables the enhancement of knowledge but also allows for children to develop a broader perspective on issues since there are more points of view available for them to consult. Similarly, there are always some children that are quieter and more shy than others. Social platforms and digital interaction motivates communication and freedom of self-expression as well as creativity in kids who wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable doing this in person. Lastly, because especially those of us who have looked for or are looking for jobs know that the people you know are of great importance in these situations, being social media allows for an enhanced level of networking and the ability to keep in contact with people who wouldn’t necessarily be easy to contact otherwise.
Social media and digital consumption may have its pros and cons when concerning the development of children, but in a society where almost everything relies on one being technologically savvy and socially driven it definitely opens doors that wouldn’t have been accessible otherwise. However, taking precautions and setting boundaries when children are little may have its benefits in the long run.