Recently the Globe and Mail posted an article regarding a children’s television show and the effects of watching it. A research study found that watching even nine minutes of SpongeBob SquarePants can have immediate negative effects on a preschooler’s brain function. This was compared with children who watched a sleepier/less-flashy cartoon or who watched none. They found that four-year-olds who watched the frenetic show did significantly worse on a series of tests measuring the brain’s executive function (attention, working memory and self-regulation).
The study made me stop and think about children growing up today. If you are around children, then you know that it is very difficult to try to keep them doing one thing for a length of time. They usually have a short attention span (naturally – since this develops as they grow) and they have (unfortunately?) been born in a very digital age.
What do I mean by a digital age? Our communication has really changed from what it used to be even 15 years ago. We have been increasingly conditioned to seek immediate gratification – news, advertising, texting, cell phones, video-conference – these have all led us down the path of instantaneous results and connections.
Children are growing up in an environment where the use of all these is absolutely normal, and it has definitely begun to affect us socially. Who has not seen or brought a DVD player to a restaurant? Or a video game? Or nowadays a smart phone? We feel the need to entertain our children to try to keep them from misbehaving. But what are we doing to their brain development and their long-term health? A conversation with a child can often teach us a lot about their views and feelings – but how used to having a conversation face-to-face are they? What happened to the art of telling stories? Children can be mesmerized by an adult telling them a made-up story they can relate to. To try to get them involved in something other than just a screen would be more interactive.
As adults we really have to reassess our overuse of these tools. Not only because of the effect that these can have on children but overall how we interact as a society. These tools have made our society more time efficient and our planet smaller in many ways; they have become a dependency – I can often include myself in that category. Which worries me for both our present and future health – I find this puts most of us in a constant level of stress; then we require stimulants or calming agents to overcome this response. Cell phones have been studied to have a definite effect on our brain health. However, what about the use of computers, television, wireless-everything, microwaves, etc. I am certain we have only begun to see the effects of these.
What I want to emphasize with this is that there are benefits to the way technology has grown. But it is how we use this that can greatly affect not only our health (and the health of our future generation) but also the state of our society and the quality of it.