There is no doubt about it. Technology is here to stay… forever. From reading the news, browsing social media, catching a ride, streaming movies, ordering groceries, educational apps…we can all do now with just a simple swipe of a screen.
Technology has forever altered our everyday life.
But do you ever wonder... what about kids using technology? Screen Time? Video gaming? Social media and teens?
There are those who love it say adamantly it has increased creativity, learning in children & helps keeps them connected with friends. The wonderful iPad has also often come in handy to save a Mom’s sanity (yes, I’m raising my hands here.)
So what’s a parent to do?
Don’t we all want what’s best for our kids?
In fact, this is such a hotly debated topic between people who are passionate on both sides of the camp.
And to make things even more complicated -- there are multiple levels of technology. A little 4-year-old doing a phonics app is engaging with technology differently than a 10-year-old playing Xbox, which is different than a 13-year-old girl snap chatting with her friends.
And then there’s internet surfing, social media, YouTube videos, Netflix, and the good ol’ the television.
So when we throw the term “technology” and “screen time” around, it’s convoluted at best. There are just layers upon layers about how it’s used and how it affects us. And the debate goes round and round. Each side adamant about their position.
So instead of trying to address one particular kind, today, I just want to present to you the case of the diet soda.
Yup, the diet soda.
I know it has nothing to do with technology. But we can learn a lot from it. And we can apply what we learn towards the digital age. I promise.
Since the invention of the diet soda in the 1950s, it has been consumed by millions of people. For decades upon decades, it was just accepted as a choice of beverage.
Traditional sugar-free sweeteners include aspartame, cyclamates, saccharin, sucralose and acesulfame potassium. (This doesn’t include the newer ones on the market today.)
After widely touting it as generally safe for almost two decades, the FDA finally banned cyclamates, when it was associated with bladder cancer.
In 1977, the FDA tried to also ban saccharin, but it was blocked by politicians backed by the soft drink industry.
So the compromise was to include a mandatory warning label, “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.”
In 2000, this labeling requirement was dropped.
In the meantime, another study came out 1996 that linked aspartame with brain tumors in rats.
Fast-forward to present day. A very recent study published April 24, 2017 in Stroke Journal linked diet sodas to increase of stroke and dementia. This made the headlines across all major news network.
And yet. Still not everyone is convinced. (What will it take?)
Like all studies, the research gets broken down, evaluated, and debated. And by the end, the same rhetoric gets echoed, “Further studies needed to be done.”
In other words, proceed with caution and use at your own risk.
So….what does that have to do with technology?
I promised you I would circle back, didn’t I? 😉
At this current moment, there are no definitive correlations. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) continues to revise their stance on this issue.
Here’s the thing. We, as human beings, are not omniscient beings. Even scientists and so-called “experts” are only able to get glimpses of things, gather clues, develop hypotheses, and try their best to piece it together in some sort of logical manner.
Some studies takes years like as in the case with longitudinal (retrospective) studies. Other studies have to find correlations by painstakingly establishing controls and variables. Furthermore, the results have to be quantifiable and measurable -- meaning that it can be graphed or put on a chart.
Well, all that’s fine and dandy...
But as parents, what should we do right now when it comes to our kids and technology?
Isn’t that the million dollar question!
Well, if we want something definitive backed by research papers… we might have to wait for it. Like maybe a couple decades.
But we CAN use the intuition that each of us have been given.
And can I share with you my gut feeling?
Natural is better than artificial. Drinking real substance is better than sugar-free chemicals.
Billions of dollars have been spent to research ways to mimic natural substance of the earth in the past decades.
But recently, with the surge of the real food movement, we're finally returning to the notion that natural is better than artificial -- real sugar instead of fake-sugar, real maple syrup and honey as oppose high fructose corn syrup, real butter instead of margarine, and real colors from fruits and vegetables instead of artificial dyes (e.g.with names like FD&C Blue No. 1, 2... ).
Interestingly enough, the FDA still says artificial dyes are safe. But evidence is starting to link it with hyperactivity and ADHD.
And margarine? After decades of touting it’s benefits over butter, it’s now widely accepted, even in mainstream news media, that margarine is probably deadly.
Say what?! Did we just reverse the last 30 years of food innovation?
What once was hailed as breakthroughs, discoveries, and wonderful substitutes in the years past (aka, fake-sugar, margarine, artificial colors, etc.)….well, now we’re told by health experts to just use the real thing and skip all the artificial stuff.
Perhaps we can’t beat God and His creation.
No matter how clever we think we are.
There is something profoundly beautiful about this world & the wonders of His creation. In the physical world, we’re given 5 senses to experience it.
There’s something magnificent about engaging in real life with all five senses -- inhaling the fresh smell of flowers, touching texture of its’ buds, tasting the fresh bounty of the garden, seeing the twinkling sunlight dance with fresh morning dew, and hearing the singing of the fluttering birds.
What about technology? Only the two senses are engaged -- hearing and seeing. (Unless you also want to count the keyboard, mouse, or swiping a screen as “touch.”)
But yet, when I gave my kids a choice between playing in aforementioned garden… or play on the iPad… guess what they will choose?
Hands down, each time, technology wins.
Who loses? The garden. Because to my kids, the garden is always “boring” compared to the iPad.
And if I force them outside, with them knowing that getting to the iPad is only a matter of time, they will literally sit outside and count the minutes to go back inside to play on the iPad.
Somehow, technology entices our kids like the alluring Sirens who calls out to Odysseus and his men, as they sail home after the Trojan War. It is bewitching.
The end result is that they miss the beautiful wonder that is present right before their very eyes--like a heartsick lover who resents his beautiful family because he is longing to see his mistress.
As G.K Chesterton writes, “There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.”
I don’t want my kids to be uninterested people. That would be so tragic. Our world is so vast, and even right there in the dirt, there are creepy crawlers to find, worms to dig out, and rocks to collect.
But when there’s a shiny gadget around, the rocks no longer hold their interest. And the worms and ants? Just another forgotten wonder.
I don’t want technology to be the force that draws our kids away from natural stuff of life and earth and the physical world. I don’t want them to choose the artificial over reality.
And if my kids are already entranced by the educational app on the iPad, I can’t even imagine how much more alluring it is to play RPG video games, to experience the adrenaline rush of getting “likes,” to be hypnotized by flashy images and videos…
And not to mention the beckoning call of curiosity that leads to danger (e.g. pornography) only one click away.
Like the case of the diet sodas… at any moment, we always have a choice between the real and the artificial. Or in the case of technology, we have a choice between reality and virtual reality.
What choice will you help them make?
Some will refute and say...those studies are flawed... nothing “bad” will really happen.
Others will be quick to point out that using technology is different than what we actually put inside our bodies like eating and drinking.
To that I would say, yes, the cliche is true. We are what we eat. We are what we drink (e.g. diet sodas). But ultimately, we also are what we hungrily consume -- media, games, movies, and images we see.
The eyes are the windows to our souls. What are we feeding our souls? Once seen, it can never be unseen.
“The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.” (Proverbs 15:14)
Are we allowing our kids to feed on folly of whatever link they happen to click on? Or whatever images determined by internet advertisers? Or we going to take drastic measures to help them tread carefully?
Because consuming folly makes a fool. Do we want to raise them to be fools? (Ouch.)
Some will maintain there are many great aspects of technology. Absolutely. There’s no doubt that technology is here to stay and will be part of our everyday life.
But for our kids? Whose brains are rapidly, growing, and being shaped by what they see and do? Hormonal teenagers who are still sorting out their emotions? Tweens and teens who are still seeking to define their identity? Kids starving for love, even counterfeit love?
Maybe...we should reconsider it for them.
Or really limit its use with close supervision.
The alternative is this - just wait and see. But like the case of the diet sodas, no one knows what the long term effects will be (e.g. how does technology shape the brain over time). It might take a decade or two for them to finally declare there might be some adverse consequences...
Right now, there are just a general "inkling"...like this.
And maybe the AAP will finally declare something new about kids and technology...that is, if you want to wait for it.
But I wouldn’t hold my breath for it.
As for now, proceed with caution and use at your own risk.
P.S. And if you have older kids and are considering a smartphone for them, please be sure to grab this FREE mini e-book: