A Fundamental Issue

I spoke this past weekend with a group of moms about important things to know as we raise our kids in a digital age. After the presentation a young woman came up to me with her mom. The girl was thirteen years old and she seemed eager to ask me if I thought there were any positive ways to introduce interactive screen technology to kids and adolescents. She pointed to herself as proof that some teens can handle tech in a healthy way. I almost wonder if she was daring me to contradict her own experience, though it was clear to me she was a poised and well-mannered young woman, due I am sure in no small part to the wise and engaged mother who stood right by her side. 


I was happy to concede to this young lady that I do think there are responsible ways to introduce tech to children. I was also quick to concede, though maybe less happy to do so, that our modern age all but demands it, as schools increasingly take it for granted that every child will have consistent and frequent access to computers and wifi if they don’t in fact provide it themselves. I don’t think it helpful nor practical to suggest we all hide under rocks with our paper and pencils and dream our way back to a pre-tech era.


Still, in the very question this girl raised I note push back to my suggestion that introducing interactive screen technology to our kids, especially kids elementary-school-age and younger, should be approached cautiously and conservatively. Our first reaction any time we are confronted with a proposal we don't want to engage is to look for reasons why it does not or should not apply to us. Being the sweet tooth that I am, I always cringe a little inside when someone brings up the topic of a cleanse or sugar fast. For me, the fact that sweet, yummy sugar is addictive and unhealthy is an inconvenient truth.


Inconvenient for many is the reality that interactive screen devices are by definition antithetical to the healthy growth and development of a child’s brain. That doesn’t mean that a child who uses such devices will automatically suffer devastating brain malfunction any more than someone who smokes a cigarette is guaranteed to wind up with lung cancer or someone who eats a cookie will fall into terrible health. It just means that interactive screen devices are not good for kids’ brains. By their very function. 


Interactive screens are a stimulant, and stimulants cause dysregulation in the brains of growing children and adolescents. It disrupts their central nervous systems and inhibits the engagement of higher level brain functions. It’s not that kids are using these devices for the wrong reasons, or for the wrong length of time, or to view the wrong content, though all of those issues have merit. My point is that the very act of using the device to begin with is inherently dicey due to the nature of the effect it has on the brain. Granted, not all kids are affected equally, so there are lots of examples of children who handle it just fine. I don’t doubt it. But the fact that symptoms don’t arise immediately upon use doesn’t mean nothing detrimental is happening neurologically.


I don’t expect nor suggest that children should never under any circumstances be permitted to use interactive screen devices. What I do think needs to change is our understanding of the problem and our appreciation for its many manifestations. Until we collectively begin to appreciate that interactive screens have a fundamentally corrosive affect on our children’s ability to learn and function, we will continue to see an overall decline in their ability to handle the ups and downs of an ever changing and challenging world.