Written and Media by Mary Todd Christian
Many of us can probably remember when we received our first cell phone. I was 12 years old when I got my first cell phone with its primary purpose being able to communicate with my parents because I participated in after-school programs. I couldn’t text many people and I wasn’t allowed to use the internet on my phone. The majority of us young adults probably had similar situations. We were so excited to have our durable little flip phones. Even though they offered limited texting options, and they took some of the worst quality pictures ever, we loved them.
Fast forward to 2015, and I think most of us would agree the age children are receiving their first cells phones (or rather, smartphones) and using technology, in general, is getting younger and younger. From the JumpStart computer games in the 90s to learning devices such as Leap Frog, and companies such as Sprint offering WeGo phones targeted to 5-year-olds in 2014, children have become increasingly tech savvy in the last 10 years.
This isn’t necessarily bad, and digital literacy in our age is practically a necessity. Some agree the various forms of technology teach children numerous channels of communication and give them more opportunities to do so. Because of this, many classrooms advocate the teaching of digital literacy because it is deemed just as important as reading and writing. However, should there be an age limit set before children begin using technology such as cell phones and computers? If devices such as these are prominent in our world today, why be concerned with the extent of their use by children? Moreover, why give a child a device when he or she is obviously too young for a computer, phone or tablet in the first place?
I can see both ends of the spectrum. I rely on my smartphone and my computer (probably too much) just as much as the next person, but I am glad my parents waited until I was at least in the double digits to introduce me to these technology forms. We have all discovered at one point or another that technology of any form can become all-consuming. If this is true for adults, how much more for children introduced to technology at a young age?
One article from Psychology Today indicated if children are introduced to technology at too young of an age, it can cause the brain to pay attention to multiple stimuli which can eventually lead to distraction and decreased memory. Furthermore, one study found technology can affect the way children feel and reconcile emotions. Children who were without screen time for an extended period of time were also better at picking up on emotional and nonverbal cues in a series of photos they had been shown. There has also been evidence over the past few years that an overuse of technology for anyone without any physical activity can lead to a greater risk of obesity. Because of the increased use of technology, we exercise less and if this is true for adults, this must be true for children, and ultimately more detrimental when experienced at a very young age. So just exactly how young is too young, to be dabbling with technology?
The age which a child is given a device or more privileges with a particular device will vary from child to child. The key is moderation because, in reality, kids using technology can be positive and convenient when they are not consumed by it at too young of an age. In my opinion, maturity also should be a determining factor which ties into the child’s ability to be responsible with whatever device they have been given. This should be up to the parents and they should be discerning when it comes to deciding whether their child is ready for the responsibility.
In the end, maturity and moderation play important roles in determining how young is too young. We can’t keep children from learning digital literacy because it is necessary to know for our time. Who knows? Maybe the younger generation will be teaching us a thing or two about the technology we thought we knew so well.