Technology and Brain Development

education, free time, technology and internet concept - little s

We are leaving in an exciting time. The exponential growth of technology is leading mankind to a future bright with capabilities in improving science, medicine, and even education. But with all this change, can come a bit of worry. This new generation of children is experiencing something completely different from previous generations; complete immersion in the Internet, and the technologic age. Tablets, cell phones, computers: all with the capability of connecting our children with mountains of information, and entertainment. But how much of that is good, and how much is bad?

Since we do not have the luxury of years of history, and research to refute any claims of whether technology is bad or good, lets consider some of the implications it can have on some aspects of development in children.

  • Concentration: In the past, reading was the primary focus of information gathering; which requires the use of memory, attention, and imagination. With our fast paced, information driven world of today, children are exposed to an environment where distraction is the norm, making it difficult to keep their attention, and the use of memory or imagination are insignificant. Studies have shown that reading encourages “faster completion and better understanding, recall, and learning than those who read text filled with hyperlinks and ads… (and it helps develop) critical thinking, problem solving, and vocabulary better than visual media.” Technology doesn’t offer just detrimental qualities: “Research shows that, for example, video games and other screen media improve visual-spatial capabilities, increase attention ability, reaction times, and the capacity to identify details among clutter.” Balance between both technology, and more traditional forms of media can help children navigate this new age successfully.
  • Retention: There are billions of pages on the Internet, each offering a vast amount of information that makes it difficult for adults, let alone children, to comprehend and take in. When we try to take in too much information at a time something called “cognitive overload” can occur that will hinder the brains ability to comprehend, and retain information. There is a distinction that needs to be made: accessing information is different from thinking and retention. Children who are being bombarded with data need to be taught to think about the information, and not just try and access as much information as possible. Retaining the information for further thought is fundamental to teaching a child to thrive in the digital age. It is the parents’ duty to control the information the child receives, and engage the child in a thought process that allows them to think and reflect on any information they accessed. 
  • Morals: Kids can have a difficult time when it comes to making decisions, and the advance of technology may cause some confusion for them; cyber bullying, sexting, over sharing, etc. Children start off at a severe disadvantage when it comes to decision making because the prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully develop until well past adolescence. The prefrontal cortex is instrumental to so-called executive functioning, namely, determining good from bad, planning, recognizing future consequences, predicting outcomes, and the ability to suppress socially inappropriate behavior.” When children are exposed to rapid information sharing, the impulses that we feel when angry, sad, confused… can be shared immediately: where as before, people had ample time to adjust, and reflect on those emotions. Controlling your child’s access to certain medias that encourage impulsive behavior, and teaching them that actions can last a lifetime can spare them from learning those lessons the hard way. 
  • Education:  The constant stream of information can essentially overload a child’s mind, causing stress or anxiety: both things harmful to a developing mind. Reflective periods should be incorporated into the time children spend with technology: “Research conducted over the last three decades has demonstrated profound physical and psychological benefits including more positive emotions, greater resilience to bad experiences, reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, improved immune system activity, and increased sense of well-being following a regimen of mindfulness exercises.” It’s a balancing act between information gathering, and thoughtful reflective or retention. Parents should guide their child’s thinking to consider both the outside world, and their own thoughts.

Happy Parenting!

-Taylor, Ph.D., Jim, “The Power of Prime: The cluttered mind uncluttered” 2012