iPads, iPhones, iPods. In the past few years, these devices have become essential to our careers, personal lives, communication needs, and entertainment. Indeed, we cannot ‘survive’ without them. But what are the effects of being constantly ‘plugged in?’
The statistics on technology are astounding. Infants watch two and half hours of television per day, and children watch 7.5 hours per day. 75 percent of children have a device in their bedrooms, and almost 15 percent have been diagnosed with a mental illness.
Cris Rowan has been working as a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and Child Development Expert for 25 years and will be offering workshops for parents, teachers, and caregivers in Bella Coola this week. Throughout her career, she has witnessed the shocking effects technology has had on children and families.
“25 years ago child mental illness was rare, and outdoor, unstructured play optimized child development. Today – play is indoors, sedentary, and virtual, with child TV, video game, cell phone and internet addictions becoming the norm,” says Rowan. “As a result, one in three children are developmentally delayed at school entry, one in four obese, and one in six elementary aged have a diagnosed mental illness.”
Rowan’s workshops are developed from years of proven research from academics and health professionals and focus on providing information on the four domains of child development: physical, mental, social, and academic.
“The workshops will focus on research and information that directly attributes the overuse of technology to developmental delays in all four of those domains,” she explains. “It’s really important to note that none of this information is based on my opinion, but comes from years of qualified research.”
Rowan also stresses that it is not simply the children’s use of technology that contributes to these problems; parents’ overuse of technology is also directly related, resulting in technology addiction spanning all ages.
“Parents are using 11 hours of technology a day,” she says. “If parents are immersed in technology, they are detached from their children. It is a well-researched fact that the underlying cause of any addiction is the failure of primary attachment to a parent or caregiver.”
Rowan believes that, in order to combat the onslaught of all this technology, education providers, parents, and caregivers first need to be aware of its detrimental effects. Armed with this knowledge, communities then need to take charge by building outdoor spaces, programs, and recreational opportunities for themselves and their families.
“We need to look within the community to see what’s there and what we can create,” said Rowan. “If the playgrounds are lacking and there’s no place for youth to go, we need to enact real solutions for these problems and get people engaged.”
Rowan cites the success of the recent ‘Crash and Bump’ program now offered weekly in Bella Bella, where parents and their children take to the community gym and simply play.
Despite the negative effects of the overuse of technology, Rowan fully understands that it’s here to stay. On that point, she advocates a balanced approach for families by following the Health Canada guidelines, which advise absolutely no technology at all for children under the age of two, one hour per day for ages three to five, and two hours per day for ages six to eighteen. This includes all forms of technology such as TV, video games, iPads, and internet usage.
Rowan also stresses the impact of ‘background TV.’ 75 percent of homes have the TV on continuously, something that is proven to cause developmental delays in children, especially language.
“It’s a proven fact that in homes with continuous background TV, parents speak to their children 90 percent less,” she says. “Speaking involves learning to use the muscles associated with the mouth. If these muscles aren’t used they do not develop, resulting in serious delays in language.”
While many of her workshops are aimed at education professionals, Rowan will be offering a public workshop on Monday, October 28 at Bella Coola Elementary Gym, from 6:30pm – 8:30pm. There is no charge for the workshop and everyone is welcome.