Should Handheld Devices Be Banned for Children under 12 Years?


“10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should be Banned For Children Under 12”. The Huffington Post headline catches my eyes as I scroll down my facebook news feed on my iPhone. I catch myself flinching as I glance at my six-year-old daughter, looking actively engaged in a fast game of Subway Surfer on her iPad, her eyes tightly focused as her fingers swipe the screen at the speed of light.

“Honey, would you like to do a puzzle?” I ask. No answer. “Sweetie, I am talking to you” I try again. Her shoulders swoop up in a sort of a shrug off, but her eyes remain fixed intently on the screen. She scoots just a little bit further away from me on the couch, and returns to her trance-like state of play, choosing to stay completely engulfed in her Subway world.

I click on the link and ponder the words for a moment, hoping against hope that I find it unconvincing. The author, Cris Rowan, a Pediatric Occupational Therapist—whatever that is—is “calling on parents, teachers, and governments to ban the use of all handheld devices for children under the age of 12 years”. She follows her plea by, as she claims, 10 research-based reasons warranting this ban: sleep deprivation, obesity, delayed brain development, mental illness, aggression, addiction, and digital dementia are some of her alleged consequences.

She links to studies from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Canadian Society of Pediatrics, Kaiser Foundation, Active Healthy Kids Canada, and Common Sense Media as the official sources that back up her call.

“Mom, can I download a new game? Please Mom, please type in your password here”. My daughter looks at me with pleading eyes as she thrusts her iPad in my hands, not waiting for my answer. “How about you do something else other than playing with your iPad, like play with your toys or read a book?” I offer. “But Mommy! I really really want this game!” she squeals. Her eyes are now watery and her bottom lip starts to quiver, threatening to burst into full blown hysterics if I insist she follows my suggestion.

“Stimulation to a developing brain caused by overexposure to technologies (cell phones, Internet, iPads, TV), has been shown to be associated with executive functioning and attention deficit, cognitive delays, impaired learning, increased impulsivity and decreased ability to self-regulate, such as tantrums (Small 2008, Pagini 2010).”

“Violent media content can cause child aggression (Anderson, 2007).” “High speed media content can contribute to attention deficit, as well as decreased concentration and memory, due to the brain pruning neuronal tracks to the frontal cortex.” (Christakis 2004, Small 2008).

I begin to panic as the alarming words cited in the article start to sink in. In my mind I am going over all the times my little one threw a tantrum or when I felt her attention slipping away from me during homework sessions. Am I really harming my child by allowing her to use new technology?

I, and many other parents like me, have always considered technology skills as an integral part of learning. By allowing my child to use new technologies such as computers and handheld devices from a young age, I am ensuring she would not fall behind or suffer from “digital divide” later in life. I am setting her up to grow into a technologically savvy person, to be able to make the most of new technologies and be motivated by it, and to operate any device the world throws at her.

It is true that I am, and many like me, sometimes guilty of misusing those precious technologies, by letting them babysit my child instead of being more actively involved with her. I admit I sometimes drive my child to use her devices in order to free up time for myself, not just for the sake of her learning something or benefiting from their use.

It is also true that not all new technologies are the same. Video games themselves come in many flavors, varieties, and levels of complexity; a fact the Huffington post article ignores. For example, Learn my Alphabet is not the same as Grand Theft Auto, and Angry Birds can teach children physics while Fruit Ninja cannot.

The writer also neglects to mention that most of the research cited is linked to passive television exposure of unidentified programs and violent video games, not interactive educational programs or even simple games that enhance problem solving skills or dexterity, such as the aforementioned Subway Surfer or Fruit Ninja.

The writer also did not mention the fact that there is other research suggesting a positive link to games and brain development, as well as research that sustains that handheld devices and TV programs are an effective tool in learning, especially when a parent or a teacher is involved. Chiong, C. (2010), Fisch, S.M. (2004).

When I discussed the author’s call to ban handheld devices with other parents, I found that most parents were leaning towards controlling and supervising their use instead of completely banning them, which most found unrealistic and unwarranted.

No parent wants to see their child falling behind in an important area such as technology skills. However, are we really able to control the use of those devices, or are we to fall into the trap of their misuse?

“Mom, please... The new game...” my daughter whimpers. “How about we do that puzzle together, then we can play a game together on your iPad, one that you and I pick?” I suggest.

Her face lights up at the magic word: together.


*Published in SCIplanetSpring 2015 Issue.

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