The three key concerns that I have as an Exercise Physiologist and Developmental Therapist when it comes to technology.
By no means has this article been written to make parents feel guilty for giving their child a smart phone, tablet, laptop, or video game console.
I am a mum of 3 children and I provide my kids with their own headphones, laptop, and smart device at times throughout the day so that I can enjoy a well-deserved hot cup of tea in peace and quiet.
However, this article has been written to raise awareness about what long term and high frequency use of technology is doing for some children’s development.
The three key concerns that I have as an Exercise Physiologist and Developmental Therapist when it comes to technology are:
- A child’s posture when sitting for prolonged periods of time (more than 20 minutes)
- A child’s lack of eye movement when using technology
- The way a child uses their hands when using technology
A child’s posture during screen time
Look at the image above and see the position of the neck and hands while playing with technology.
The neck is stretched forwards with the weight of the head hanging over the front of the spine’s optimal neck positon. The back of the shoulders are hunched forward, leaning in to the table. The core muscles are having a sleep as the table or bench is supporting the child to sit upright. The hands are not engaged in the activity and are positioned awkwardly for an extended period of time.
This description for how this young boy is sitting may seem harsh. But the reality of a child keeping this position for long periods of time, throughout the course of his life is concerning for his health. This posture can lead to neck and back pain, shoulder pain, shortness of breath, headaches, wrist pain and a delay in both gross motor (big movements) and fine motor (small movements) development.
Children’s eye muscles need to move just as much as their arms and legs
Another key concern for technology and children’s motor development can be seen above.
Visual tracking refers to the ability of the eye muscles to follow a moving object from left to right, down to up, etc. and to see an object in focus while moving their eyes left to right, up to down, etc.
Visual tracking is an important skill for being able to read and write as the eyes need to move independently while writing or holding the book. Visual tracking is also important when driving as the eyes need to see moving objects, as well as the eyes being able to move in various directions without the neck and arms moving.
You can see in the image above that screen time is limiting children’s visual tracking ability as the eyes are kept still, in front of the body.
Children spending more time watching TV than playing ball games outside means that children aren’t practising the skill of visual tracking, following the ball with their eyes, while coordinating their body to catch or throw the ball.
In my role as a Developmental Educator, I see way too many children who have poor hand-eye coordination skills and who find it very challenging to stay focused on a book or whiteboard. The use of technology has become part of our lifestyle and it is having a huge impact on our childrens’ education.
Technology is hindering our independence
The third concern with technology and children’s development is the delayed fine motor skills that I am observing with children.
We need fine motor skills to be able to feed independently, do up buttons, tie shoe laces, write long stories with a pencil, use scissors, tear paper, etc. Too many children are struggling with taking off their jumpers, tying their shoe laces, opening food packets, and writing their name so I am passionate about raising awareness for the best interest of our children’s life skills.
For example, look at the position of the fingers below when using technology.
Our hand needs practice in a side lying pincer grip position to be able to use scissors, do up buttons, use a pencil. However, technology gets children to point their finger downwards, and it rarely encourages children to use two hands at the same time in a coordinated manner.
While technology definitely has its positives and technology gives me the break that I need during my busy day at home with my kids, we all need to be mindful of the risks when exposing our children to technology for more than 20 minutes at a time.
Images courtesy of Pixabay.com