Are children addicted to Technology?

According to the Children's Technology Review, there are more than 40,000 kids' games available on iTunes.  But concern is mounting,  could the popularity of apps, social networking and gaming among young people lead to childhood development problems?

How much time should children spend online or playing apps and games?

The facts about children's digital consumption are eye-opening. A 2010 Kaiser Foundation study found that US youths spent more than seven and a half hours a day using a smartphone, computer, television or other electronic device. In another study conducted that year by the Joan Ganz Cooney Centre, which specialises in children's media, two thirds of children aged four to seven had already used an iPhone. And how did these kids get hooked on digital? The Centre's own research suggests that most of the iPhones used by kids had been lent to them by a family member. As a recent Atlantic Monthly article put it: "The centre's researchers labelled this the 'pass-back effect,' a name that captures well the reluctant zone between denying and giving."

Perhaps the world is in a new period of technological adaptation and what is considered digital overload for children, is simply the education they need to prepare for a connected society?

Perhaps. But that doesn't mean digital addiction is an issue we can just dismiss. With no firm medical consensus on digital addiction, the US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, classified Internet Use Disorder (IUD) as an area worthy of further study.

While we don't know exactly the effect information overload has on people, we do know that children, especially under-10s, are going to use digital technologies more than any generation before  Even if children aren't being financially manipulated in the games, the question needs to be asked - Do gaming and app makers have a corporate and social responsibility to manage the impact their products have?

Companies such as Microsoft already include warnings about spending too much time on its Kinect system (though this is geared more at over-exertion) while Nintendo's Super Mario 3D Land employs Princess Peach to advise players to take a break if they are tired (though this is because of concerns about the effect 3D playing has on kid's vision).So could this principle of responsible gaming be expanded to cover digital overload as a whole? Lego is one of the world's biggest toymakers and a leader in digital gaming thanks to savvy partnerships with the Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises.

When asked about its social and corporate responsibility to the amount of time children spend playing its games, Lego offered this statement: "Each child and situation is unique and that decision is ultimately the responsibility of the parent, that's why we encourage parents to have a dialogue with their children on healthy digital behavior and – as a family - set some clear rules regarding digital activity."

Parents really should take the lead on moderating their kid's digital activity and you can see why technology companies are loathe to self-regulate against a digital affliction that has still yet to be fully understood or defined. But not all kids can count on having parents who care or at this point understand the importance of managing digital health.

Therole that government and the education system needs to play in this is still an evolving debate.  Primary age school kids in the UK already get some lessons in internet safety and protecting their privacy. In South Korea, the state education system is ramping up to meet the challenge it has identified in digital obesity. Starting next year, children from ages three to five will be taught to avoid spending too much time on the internet and digital devices.

How kids use digital devices and games is impacted by the example parents set at home. It's worth considering the next time you download an app to keep the kids quiet.

See more in the 'Parenting' section


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