iToddler: How Soon Is Too Soon To Expose Kids To Technology?

When I was a child, my family made a strict decision to keep gaming consoles out of the house. Game Boys and PlayStations were all devices meant to be played at our cousin’s house, or while waiting around at a friend’s house, but not at home. In a way, it opened my mind to other activities.

However, buying a Game Boy eventually became a primary goal in my young life. I saved up all my money, asked both the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus for a system, and kept nagging my parents. Dad finally gave in when he bought a Game Boy for me at age 10. And I was hooked. That Game Boy would rule my life for 3 years until I gave it up in 2008 at the behest of my parents.

I would seem like a stereotypical case for the argument that video games cause children to become addicts. More and more studies are finding evidence of this. The most recent case was the statement by a UK therapist who was handling the case of a 4-year-old suffering from “iPad addiction”:

Her parents enrolled her for compulsive behaviour therapy after she became increasingly “distressed and inconsolable” when the iPad was taken away from her.

Her use of the device had escalated over the course of a year and she had become addicted to using it up for to four hours a day.

Dr Richard Graham, who launched the UK’s first technology addiction programme three years ago, said he believed there were many more addicts of her age.

“The child’s mother called me and described her symptoms,” he said.

“She told me she had developed an obsession with the device and would ask for it constantly. She was using it three to four hours every day and showed increased agitation if it was removed.”

The symptoms shown here do remind me of my own personal reactions to video games, and how I developed an obsession with them. But is this an inherent consequence of the system of using iPads?  Psychiatrist Richard Graham certainly thinks so:

“Children have access to the internet almost from birth now,” he told the Sunday Mirror.

“They see their parents playing on their mobile devices and they want to play too. It’s difficult, because having a device can also be very useful in terms of having a reward, having a pacifier. But if you don’t get the balance right it can be very dangerous.

“They can’t cope and become addicted, reacting with tantrums and uncontrollable behaviour when they are taken away. Then as they grow older, the problem only gets worse. Even the most shy kids, when they hit their teens, suddenly want to become sociable and popular.”

Much of Graham’s commentary is pretty similar to most people who critique the digital culture we live in. He doesn’t list too many cases of this occurring, but only implies that there are more cases. How many more? This is left to our imagination. So there might only be 50 others with this problem, there might be 50,000 more with this problem. Who knows?

But everything about this is scary to those who worry about technology. This “digital inundation” is of constant concern to parents and the culture in general. So, this article (and those who share it) see it as a scary revelation about technology. Graham has a point: Younger children cannot cope with technology. It’s for this same reason that it’s illegal for those under 21 to drink, or for those under 16 to drive: They are not able to cope with it.

I even wonder if, in past years, similar addictions formed as well. Imagine a boy who couldn’t go without his radio show. Or if an addiction to books formed in young children in earlier ages. Of course, we have certain cultural biases that see the text as the ultimate form of content, and that it cannot be handled incorrectly. When was the last time you heard a psychologist talk about the dangers of “reading addiction”?

Am I suggesting that we should set some kind of legal requirement on technology, or that reading and iPad use are the same? No. Laws would change very little, and how we interact with an iPad and a book are universally different (though shifts with ebooks are making them quite similar). But I do think parents need to consider the consequences of certain actions.

It’s why I’m not very fond of the Baby Einstein videos. As a whole, these videos provide some excellent stimulation, and the ideas about colors, music, etc. are nice and somewhat helpful, but they do encourage a habit of turning towards screens for entertainment, an act which can be good or bad. In the same way, good habits are formed when a parent believes that teaching a child to read is integral, so that they learn to love the habit.

As our own Alan Noble stated, we must work to develop good habits over just choosing good cultural items. I encourage parents to take time to consider the consequences of one’s decisions about their technology, and how that’s affecting their offspring. I love iPads as much as the next Apple disciple, but I also recognize that their usage can be potentially harmful.  I recognize that the iPad is wonderful on planes or situations where options for keeping a child content are limited.  However, I also recognize that over-using the iPad for certain things is inherently unhelpful; that it causes strife and bad habits.  I mustn’t use it as a “iPacifier”, as Jewel Evans so beautifully put it.  It’s in recognizing and working towards  creating this balance that we are able to account for the good and bad in all of our options, and truly serve our family to the best of our ability.

About Christopher Hutton

Chris Hutton is a college student and Freelance Writer from Bloomington Minnesota. Since he was young, he loved books and ideas. Science was one of his favorite topics, as well as technology. It's one of the issues that has mattered to him consistently. Hence, Chris tries to bring a critical/helpful take to the modern understanding of technology. You can find Chris' home online at liter8.net, or you can tweet him via @liter8media.


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