A young girl stares happily into her iPad watching a show at daycare.

A Look at How Technology Influences Child Development

Toddlers have a way with technology. They can pick up a tablet and start swiping for hours. Many parents enjoy these fleeting moments of quiet they get when their children are distracted by these electronic devices.

While some parents swear on technology for their kids’ learning and entertainment, others may be wary of the effects technology has on a developing brain.

There are two schools of thought about the effects of technology on childhood development. It’s either negative and should be limited. Or it’s an incredible benefit and opportunity.

The truth, it would seem, lies somewhere in the middle. Technology is a tool that can be used effectively or ineffectively. And how it impacts a child largely depends on how, when, and why it is used.

This article will examine both sides of the debate and the potential issues that may arise from using technology, as well as many of the benefits.

How Are Children Using Technology?

Young children often use technology for games, reading, learning, and entertainment. Older children and teens use technology for passive entertainment, video games, social media, and looking up information.

Young children are more likely to play on the household tablet or watch television shows, while older kids tend to have their own personal smartphones, computers, and video game consoles.

How Does Technology Impact (Or Not Impact) Childhood Development?

Technology can be both beneficial and harmful to the way children think.

When technology is used to distract a toddler, it may interfere with their social-emotional development and their ability to learn self-regulation. Especially if used to calm young children by distracting them.

Some pediatric studies suggest that interactive screen time for children below the age of three may impair a child’s development of the skills needed for maths and science.

However, other studies suggest that toddlers’ use of mobile devices may benefit them in terms of early literacy skills development and better academic engagement for children with autism.

Children who are closer to school age can benefit from well-researched, early-learning television shows, like Sesame Street. They can also develop vocabulary and reading comprehension with electronic books and learn-to-read apps on smartphones and tablets.

Are There Any Issues That Might Be Caused by Technology?

Research has found that children under the age of 30 months cannot learn as well from television and videos as they do from human interaction. So when devices replace human interaction and unstructured play, children may not develop the same quality of skills.

Technology has a great influence on the way children think, specifically their:

  • Attention;
  • Decision making; and,
  • Memory/learning.

A child’s attention—their ability to focus consistently and effectively—affects most aspects of their growth. Without attention, it’s difficult to develop other skills that rely on this ability to think, including:

  • Language;
  • Learning;
  • Perception;
  • Memory;
  • Creativity;
  • Reasoning;
  • Problem-solving; and,
  • Decision making.

A child’s environment directly influences attention development. For example, children who read a lot rely on a focused and consistent attention, memory, and imagination.

But television and the Internet provide visual stimulation, making kids less reliant on the need to focus intently or rely on memory and imagination.

As a result, technology conditions a child’s brain to pay attention in a very different way than reading—e.g. more distractions and decreased reliance on memory and imagination.

But instead of making children less intelligent, technology may just be making children different. For example, video games and other screen media can improve:

  • Visual-spatial skills;
  • Reaction times; and,
  • The ability to identify details among the clutter.

How Do Children Grow and Develop?

Children reach many developmental milestones early on in life. They learn through active engagement and experiences with their parents. And they develop empathy, problem-solving skills, and other types of social interactions through unstructured play and communication with peers at home and at a daycare in Ottawa.

For example, a young child can develop sensorimotor, visual-motor, and early math skills by playing with building blocks. These skills are part of the foundation for the learning and application of maths and science.

Why It’s Worth It to Think About How Children Use Technology

Whether you ban screens at home or allow plenty of screen time, it’s important to understand the relationship between children and technology. A device cannot replace the valuable human interactions of parent and child, and child and siblings. But technology will make its way into your child’s life sooner or later.

So be mindful of how much time your kids spend on their devices. And try to limit screen time so your kids can play, read, and do other fun activities with you, your family, and their peers.

Ways to Use Technology to Support Learning

If there is a learning app you’d like your child to use on your phone or tablet, try the app first to see how it will benefit your child. The more engaging and interactive the app, the more real the game is from a toddler’s perspective.

It also helps to increase human-to-human interaction with children. Dedicate one hour of unplugged family time so kids can discover other activities and benefit from quality time spent with family away from television and mobile devices.

Technology is unavoidable today. And the wide-spread use of technology in the home and at school is still relatively new. So there is no definitive answer as to whether or not young children should use it.

Technology can be a very useful and helpful tool for child development if used in the right way, and not used all the time, or as a replacement for other activities.

Like with all things in life, moderation is key. So finding a healthy balance between meaningful and engaging human interactions and screen time is probably the best solution for both children and adults.