Tech Impairs Children's Health and Development
From sleep loss to weigh gain to autism, the effects of the digital revolution can be harsh.
The latest report from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) should set off alarms bell in the heads of parents around the world. Unfortunately, most of them are as distracted as their children by the very same cause for concern: digital technology.
The WCRF explained that too much screen time fuels childhood obesity. In turn, obesity puts children at greater risk of developing at least 12 deadly cancers. Increasing interaction with smartphones, tablets, and gaming consoles is one the primary drivers of long-term weight gain, because those products promote a sedentary lifestyle at a time when children should be engaging in physical activity.
The lack of exercise is exacerbated by another deleterious factor. “We also know that when children spend time in front of screens, they are bombarded with junk food adverts,” explains Caroline Cerny, from the Obesity Health Alliance. “This new report highlights the dangers of unhealthy lifestyles and children’s exposure to advertising.”
The WCRF examined 80 studies involving more than 200,000 people before reaching their conclusions. And the cancers that obesity precipitates are some of the deadliest, including breast, prostate, colon, liver, ovarian, kidney, and pancreatic. Just as alarming, researchers at King’s College London discovered that for every hour a day children play computer games, the risk of short-sightedness increases by 3%, an effect referred to as “digital myopia.”
In the last 50 years, the number of kids afflicted with myopia has doubled from 7.2% to 16.4%. In Asia, a staggering 96% of teenagers have the condition, revealed Dr. Mohamed Dirani of the Singapore National Eye center, who wrote an editorial linked to the Kings College study. Dirani, who believes face-to-screen and body posture guidelines should be established, further noted that the “age of smart device uptake is getting younger, with many two-year-olds spending up to two hours a day on devices.”
Doctors also have a term for two-year-old children overexposed to digital devices: virtual autism. Dr. Leah Light, founder of the Brainchild Institute in Hollywood, Florida, describes the actions of a two-year-old boy brought to her office by concerned parents. The boy is “non-verbal, does respond to his name, emits a few repetitive sounds and appears to be hearing impaired,” she reveals. “He makes poor eye contact and does not point. He runs all over the place but does not walk. It’s difficult to keep him engaged.”
Light now includes a question on her patient questionnaire, asking about the level of screen time parents allow their children to have. In Daniel’s case it was more than four hours per day. “The parents then told me that this was the only way they could get Daniel to eat, remain calm, or get dressed,” Light explains. “With a screen in front of his face, he became sedated, zoned out, and would tolerate almost anything.”
Why? Because “brain imaging research shows how overuse of screens can affect the brain’s frontal cortex in the same way cocaine does.”
Excessive use is engendered by excessive availability. A 2015 study revealed that 92.2% of one-year-olds had already used a mobile device, and a majority of two-year-olds use them every day. “Many parents think they’re providing their infants with a digital head start in life,” Light states. “Instead, they’re stymying their cognitive development.”
That’s an understatement. Researchers from the University of Toronto and The Hospital For Sick Children in Toronto discovered that every 30 minutes of screen time increased the risk of delayed speech by 49%. And while guidelines regarding screen time exist, many parents fail to realize that hand-held devices are just as problematic. “Handheld devices are everywhere these days,” Dr. Catherine Birken, staff pediatrician at The Hospital for Sick Children, states. “While new pediatric guidelines suggest limiting screen time for babies and toddlers, we believe that the use of smartphones and tablets with young children has become quite common.”
The University College London adds another dollop of dysfunction to this toxic stew, revealing that every hour infants spent using these devices precipitated 16 minutes less sleep per night, at an age when sleep is critically important because “neural plasticity” is at its greatest level. The researchers pointed to the blue light emitted by these devices, which they believe interrupts the brain’s circadian rhythms. They also surmised that the stimulation engendered by video games and programs precipitates psychological and physiological arousal.
Columnist Henry Fersko reveals that the attraction to social media enabled by these devices is no accident, explaining that “social media platforms were deliberately designed to hold users’ attention as long as possible, tapping into psychological biases and vulnerabilities relating to our desire for validation and fear of rejection.”
Maybe that’s why many of the tech titans who produce these programs and devices limit their own children’s use of them.
Unfortunately, the problem is further exacerbated by the explosion of social media. Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, warns that children’s lives are being “datafied” on a massive scale, collected by entities such as smart toys, smart speakers, and school apps. A report released by her office believes the data collected will be used to influence those children’s lives in a number of ways, including which college may accept them, and which jobs or mortgages they can — or can’t — obtain.
How rampant is the obsession with social media? According to the report, by the time a child reaches 13 years of age, they have approximately 1,300 photos and videos posted on social media by their parents, and that the children themselves post nearly 70,000 times between the ages of 11 and 18. “We do need to look at the technology itself and understand that there’s a lot of stuff in there that is absolutely designed to change user behavior and these programs are reaching children at younger and younger ages,” states Monica Laurent, whose husband, Peter, has worked for Microsoft and Intel.
Changing user behavior — or fostering ideological conformity? It is no secret that the leading purveyors of social media and the devices used to deliver it lean decidedly left, and that they’re willing to use technology to precipitate the fundamental transformation of America into a nation where “social justice” reigns supreme. And when more than 90% children as young as one are being inculcated into a lifestyle that increasingly prioritizes cyberspace over reality itself, we are sailing in uncharted waters.
Perhaps it’s time for the same kind of warning labels that apply to cigarettes. No doubt the tech titans would object, but the same deleterious effects on health that apply to cigarettes apply to social media and its delivery devices — if not more so. Or perhaps something along the lines of the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which held major cigarette companies liable for increased health care costs associated with smoking and prevented them from targeting youths, should apply to tech titans who — just as it was alleged with regard to tobacco company executives — are well aware of the havoc their products are wreaking.
Isn’t this what the Left’s oft-stated desire to “save the children” is really all about?