In an ever-changing world where technology is ushering in a new method of learning and development, we must ask the question: ‘Are children becoming too reliant on technology and moving further away from traditional peer to peer interaction?’. There is no denying that technology has reshaped society and if a young person is guided on the right path the positives should always outweigh the negatives. A recent UN study has found that teenagers who spend hours on social media or using smartphones are much less happy and are more likely to become depressed than generations born prior to 1995 (Pollak, 2019). Children born after 1995 are referred to as iGen or post-millennials, adolescents from this era have spent all of their lives living in the age of the smartphone. The so-called iGen are spending less time with their friends, family and peers and perhaps that is why there is an increasing number of young people experiencing anxiety, depression, and isolation (Twenge, 2017).
Technology has an important place in modern society, but whether we like it or not it is evolving at an enormous rate and perhaps it is time to take a step back and consider if the continued growth of technology is damaging the psychological wellbeing and development of future generations. For the purpose of this essay, we will be discussing the role technology has on the main developmental domains and examine the disadvantages that technology can have on the development of children and adolescents. We will look at how technology is perhaps responsible for limiting traditional human interaction and how cyberbullying and self-harm incidents are on the increase due to the irresponsible use of technology.
The excessive use of technology among the adolescent population is affecting the physical wellbeing of young people. Musculoskeletal conditions and obesity are just some of the issues arising from the overuse of electronic devices. The lack of physical activity can potentially disrupt healthy eating patterns as children tend to snack on foods high in sugar and calories when playing computer games or engaging with social media, leading to a rise in obesity and other problems further down the line.
Social development is designed to help children understand early in life how to manage their own feelings and to respect and consider the feelings of others. Positive social development helps to build good relationships with family members and peers, as well as assisting in the promotion of other important life skills such as relationships and Etiquette. According to Bowlby (1969/1982, 1988), a child’s attachment to their guardian works as the basis for future social development. Bowlby implied that attachment is biologically based and aimed at ensuring children have adequate help and protection until they are able to function independently (Huitt and Dawson, 2011, p. 3).
Traditionally and still to this day, the role of the parent is seen as very important in a child’s social development but modern-day tech savvy parents are introducing their children to technology as young as the age of three or four years old. This maybe something as simple as giving a child a smartphone to help regulate their emotions, or playing a video clip on a phone as a way of encouraging children to eat meals or do other tasks. An Irish times report by Ailin Quinlan found that this use of technology in early years means that children are not interacting properly with parents and are not being afforded the opportunity to control their feelings through normal human interaction (Quinlan, 2018). Technology used in this way is contrary to the views of Piagetian theorists who suggest that social interaction that happens within the context of play lets children discover their social world by embracing different roles (Keenan, 2002, p. 202).
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Technology has many advantages in society, but unfortunately there will always be disadvantages associated with technology. Cyberbullying is an example of a social problem that can result from establishing relationships online. Cyberbullying can be devastating for all parties involved and can potentially trigger psychological issues such as depression, anxiety and self-harm. According to a study by the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre at DCU, cyberbullying is becoming a major issue in Ireland with more than 1 in 10 children saying they have experienced it at some stage in their lives (McGuire et al., 2016). Subsequently a 2018, UK study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research showed that cyberbullying victims are more than twice as likely to self-harm and show suicidal behaviors. To a lesser degree the study also found that individuals who participate in cyberbullying are also at risk of suicidal behaviors and suicidal thoughts compared to those who do not partake in this activity (Ann John et al., 2018).
The evolution of technology has somewhat taken away the physical aspect of social development, teenagers are becoming more reliant on various social media platforms to form friendships and are finding it more difficult to make and retain friends. As a young person starts the transition from child to adolescent, they start to explore their inner thoughts and feelings and begin to express them verbally, particularly when relationships may involve intimacy. Therefore, it is important that youngsters are encouraged to reduce time spent using technology and move towards a more conventional means of social development.
It is widely publicized throughout the media that excessive use of social media in both children and adolescents can cause low self-esteem, negative moods, suicidal thoughts and self-harm. Duggan’s et al., (2012) research indicates that the manner by which some teenagers may disclose non-suicidal self-harm experiences online may lead teenagers to believe that the behavior is normal when the information is accessed and shared via social media. Many non-suicidal self-harm incidents disclosed on social media contain comprehensive accounts of non-suicidal self-injury that highlights emotional pain and suffering without a positive message of recovery and prognosis (Christofferson, 2016, p. 14).
As technology rapidly evolves there is hope that the various social media providers will consider the negativities of unsolicited online behavior, and provide an adequate response to the issue. Sadly, for now we must live in a generation where children and adolescents are using their time irresponsibly and are potentially damaging their emotional development due to technology addiction.
For many people language is viewed solely as a communications tool, but it is much broader than just exchanging information. Language development is a vital part of a child’s development and is reliant on verbal communication through talking, play and everyday interactions with peers. Language has many other functions such as helping with the thinking process, decision making and problem solving, while giving individuals control over their own learning. This is not a new theory; in the 1970s the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky spoke about private speech, he claimed that private speech is a way of thinking, self-regulating and problem solving. This so-called private speech supports people in decision making, planning and concentration using their own mental abilities (Naughton, 2019).
The use of digital technology is becoming a popular means of communication amongst the younger generation and is now a part of their daily lives either in the home or educational setting. Although modern technology should be embraced, there are worries that its overuse is having a damaging effect on the language development of young people.
A 2014 Telegraph report on research by Cohen Children’s Medical Centre found that children in clinics were regularly given smartphones to keep them entertained and examined links to development and speech. A survey of 65 families indicated that most parents felt that the games were educational and helped with their child’s development but this was not the case. The research found that children started using tablets and other touchscreen devices at just 11 months old and most used them on average for thirty minutes per day. Researchers discovered that there was no variance in scores on general developmental tests in children aged up to 3 years old between those who played educational or non-educational games on touchscreen devices. On the other hand, children who played non-educational games such as Angry Birds scored poorer in speech tests for understanding of speaking and language (Smith, 2014).
It is worth considering that perhaps our society would be happier and healthier if the use of technology was limited in early years and youngster were given the opportunity to live in a world where human interaction is the most vital aspect of a child’s development. Due to the advancements in technology, it is highly unlikely that we will return to a society where parents encourage their youngsters to participate in good old-fashioned play techniques that promotes one-to-one relationships between siblings and peers.
Physical face to face communication must take precedence over facetime, to help young people with oral communication techniques and body language skills that are unique in language development. The recklessness of cyberbullying must be met head on and action taken to prevent self-harm and suicide incidents increasing. As a society we all have a responsibility to hold the major technology giants accountable and to work toward ending cyberbullying before it becomes an unmanageable epidemic. Technology is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean that we should allow it take over our lives to the extent that irreversible damage may potentially be done to succeeding generations.