8 - 12 Years

// Is my child’s addicted to technology?

Parents frequently lament, ‘My child’s addicted to technology.’ Children’s intense reluctance to disengage from technology has left many parents worried that their child’s addicted. There’s no denying that some children have a digital dependence. Asking them to switch off a device or asking them to play outside is often met with reluctance or a techno tantrum. But this doesn’t mean that children are really addicted to technology.

However, before we delve into addiction, consider if we would be so concerned if our child was spending a lot of time reading books. Would we automatically consider them addicted to books? Often we fret about screen time because it’s new and our children’s digitalised childhoods are very different to our analogue childhoods. Our nostalgic accounts of our childhood can cause us to panic about our child’s tech habits (just because their childhood is different to our own).

Young children can certainly become dependent on technology. Much like substance dependence, children can develop a tolerance to technology and need more and more of it to reach the same level of pleasure. They can also experience withdrawal symptoms (neurobiological changes in the brain) if they suddenly have to stop or are unable to use the technology. This is dependence, not necessarily an addiction.

For technology use to be considered an addiction (and it may soon be recognised as a mental disorder by psychologists), children need to be able to make a conscious choice to keep using technology even when they understand that prolonged use will have adverse consequences. They need to know and fully comprehend the adverse consequences that may be associated their prolonged or excessive technology use.

As parents, it’s our responsibility to make sure young children understand how to manage technology.

// Why won’t my child turn off the iPad/TV/video game when I ask them?

The parts of the brain associated with pleasure are often activated when using technology. As with anything pleasurable that we experience in life (such as eating chocolate), the amygdala releases dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter, and so our children naturally want more and more of it when they’re using technology (particularly if they’re playing games or apps where they’re constantly rewarded and/or praised).

Emotionally charged technology experiences like watching a funny TV show or playing a video game or app where we’re rewarded for achieving a higher level release dopamine. So children quickly associate screens with pleasure – and why young infants and toddlers very quickly get accustomed to using parents’ smart phones.

The brain craves novelty and technology offers constant novelty. The prefrontal cortex has a novelty bias, meaning it’s easy for our kids’ focus and attention to be hijacked. The prefrontal cortex is one of the main parts of the brain that’s required to manage our attention, but it’s being constantly bombarded by a sensory smorgasbord offered by the digital world (and this part of the brain doesn’t fully develop and come online until adulthood).

So your child’s refusal to switch off devices is a neurobiological response and a habit that’s formed over time. They’ve often formed a dependence on technology

// Should my child read eBooks, book apps and audiobooks?

Parents are often concerned that their child likes reading eBooks and audiobooks instead of traditional printed books.There are concerns that digital book experiences are not ‘as good’ as more traditional book experiences. And to be honest, I have to declare that we don’t yet have the research evidence to answer this. So I recommend a balanced approach to parents and educators (and be grateful that your child enjoys reading, regardless of how they consume the book).

Audio books are a great alternative to book apps and traditional, printed books too (and TV and movies). They’re the perfect solution during long car trips (no car sickness issues) or long haul flights.

Audio books are great for young children whose independent reading skills are still emerging. Typically, children’s reading ability is lower than their intellectual capacity. So audio books and book apps that can narrate the story to the child are a great way to bridge this gap between what they can understand and what they can read independently (if they’re reading independently at all).

Audio books develop children’s listening, comprehension, visualization and vocabulary kills. They also provide interesting sound effects, music, and multiple narrators that can appeal to young children and sustain their attention.

eBooks and book apps can appeal to reluctant readers with their multimedia inclusions and can add new dimensions to reading, not possible with traditional books. For example, in The Wrong Book app children can narrate the story by simply pressing a record button and when reading eBooks children can annotate the book with their notes and use the built-in dictionary to ascertain the meaning of unknown words.

eBooks, book apps and audiobooks are a great alternative to more traditional, print books but are no replacement or substitute for reading real books as this video shows so well.

// Should I let my child play Minecraft?

Minecraft is an online game where users build constructions in a 3D-generated world. It can be both educational and highly addictive for young children. When playing Minecraft, as with some video games, children can develop higher order thinking skills. For example, they can develop problem-solving skills, measurement and estimation skills, creativity and logical-thinking skills. However, anecdotal reports from parents and teachers alike suggest that the game can be very addictive.

In essence, Minecraft per se is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It really depends on the child and how they use it. Basically, the child’s disposition and the level of their engagement with the game determine its impact.

TECHNO-TIP: Establish time limits and usage patterns in advance. For example, you may negotiate with your child that they will play Minecraft on certain days and for a specified period of time. This will reduce the likelihood that your child will become addicted to the game.

TECHNO-TIP: Ask your child to show you what they are creating in Minecraft. Not only does this encourage open dialogue between you and your child regarding technology (which you will certainly want when they are a teenager), but it also shows them that you are interested in what they are doing on-screen. It will also discourage them to engage in anything inappropriate if they know that they have to be accountable to Mum or Dad.

// Is it okay for my tween to use social media?

We need to be very careful not to prematurely introduce social media sites to our children. (It is illegal for a start: the required age limit in most instances is 13 years of age. This is because of privacy laws that prohibit the collection of online data from kids aged under 13 years and not based on fears about what they may access or encounter online).

Young children often don’t have the necessary social and emotional skills to effectively use social media and it can have adverse consequences. If social media sites are not carefully managed, even when our children meet the required age limit, there’s a risk they can promote narcissistic tendencies and cause unnecessary social anxiety at an age when children are eager for external approval and validation.

We also need to be mindful that we’re not over-inflating the importance of social media sites with our own children too. Children absorb our digital habits and if we’re constantly posting images of our children on social media sites and telling them how many likes or shares or comments our posts received, we can convey very powerful messages to our children about their perceived value.

Technology’s no substitute for real connection and a child’s ability to form and sustain relationships is critical for their development. No app or social media site is anywhere near as rich and meaningful as what in-person connections offer.

If you really want to introduce your child to social media, look for more age-appropriate alternatives. For example, many tween girls want to use Instagram and Kuddle is a great substitute for younger children. Remember, there’s no hurry to introduce them to social media.