Technology and the Psycho-Social Development of the Child

Whole foods recharge my internal battery: My technologies seemingly amp my spirits, but inconspicuously drain my life force.

I had to laugh while watching a commercial of a popular educational app because it portrayed the child as “so much happier” and claimed that he “loves to learn;” however, take that technology away and see how that kid will function.  I bet the kid would suddenly get moody or throw a tantrum, refuse to learn using other resources, and would nag the mother as to when he could play again on that device.  Let me preface by stating that not all kids are the same, I know.  But we’ve seen it first hand – most kids have iPads provided by their schools and once you take it away…. it’s like Jekyll and Hyde!  [Granted some children have varying disabilities which contribute to their inability to adapt to a change or they may need adaptive technology for communication- Those individuals show the same behaviors, yet often need the technology to “level the playing field”].  We’ve seen the behaviors with our own son and his “typical” friends.  Technology is messing with our kids’ bodies and minds!  One study concluded that the increased use of “communication technologies” (e.g., texting, email, Facebook, Twitter) is linked to higher levels of social anxiety and internalization of emotions, peer aggression (both cyber and physical), and an overall maladjustment related to relationships and social development (Cyr, Berman, & Smith, 2015).  Another article- unrelated to technology- noted that aggressive behaviors are often caused by social and emotional issues, attention problems, ADHD and PTS, narcissism, and self-esteem issues brought on by the mother (Priddis, Landy, Moroney, Kane, 2014).  [Question: Is it possible for an undeveloped mind/ child who may not be able to separate reality from what they see on the screen suffer from PTS b/c they internalize the story as their own?  Possible study idea?].  These precursors may be exacerbated in young children after prolonged use of technology.  Previously, I thought it was just the violent superhero shows or video games with scary creatures and fighting, but it seems to be usage of any TV, computer, or mobile device.  I believe that kids are hypersensitive to the content and stimulation that these technologies provide.  Even though they seem zoned out when watching, they are really immersing themselves into the stories or playing the games.  They are bombarded with commercials having a plethora of colors, lights, sounds, and even varying dimensions.  They have been trained- by all the coming attractions- to lack attention : Always…. what’s next, what’s next, again, again.  Shows, movies, games, and commercials present reality and fantasy without distinguishing which is which.  When they are done, they have a great deal of “drama” and energy inside that they haven’t released and therefore, it manifests as disrespect (or an out-of-place assertion of confidence), anxiety and entitlement for more with no regard for what may need to happen in real time, physical over-exuberance, inferiority to their heroes causing a reduced self-esteem, and often a reduced ability to cope with real problems and people.  Before we pulled our son from the kindergarten class he was attending, we had noticed that since he started using the iPad daily, he had this glazed over look in his eyes.  He was often angry, anxious, and overly aggressive with his sister and me.  After many trials (to determine validity of my idea), I concluded that these negative attitudes and aggressive behaviors were not due to daily stresses, but due to “when will I get to play the iPad again.”

Not only is the increased use of technology messing with the temperament and psychological development of our children, it’s creating a backslide in social maturity and relatability.  We invited one particular friend over who was supposedly our son’s best bud in school.  Our son isn’t attending that school anymore; therefore, one would think that these two would be excited to see each other.  However, this kid hardly got in our door and his iPad was already out with a game loaded.  He plopped down on the couch and started playing.  He barely said “hello” to our son.  It’s incredible that kids would rather play with a computer than with each other.

As a matter of “not” fact, but of observation and discussion, kids do not know how to play anymore.  I grew up with the understanding that children first learn to play dependent on their parents’ or caregivers’ modeling.  Next they learn to play alone (independent).  They begin to play closer and closer to others and then next to another child but not with him (parallel play).  Finally they learn to play with other children (interdependent) [Adults also demonstrate these stages in their relationships].  I once thought that sending our child to school would promote a healthy social life; however, we found a lack of social monitoring and teaching led to social regression, especially since school-age children are highly susceptible to external influences. Parents beware:  It isn’t necessarily the best placement just because there may be 12-30 other kids with whom your kid can play.  If the social interactions aren’t monitored with 4, 5, and 6 year olds, then kids are learning from kids rather than from the adults that should be teaching them.  The quality of social interactions with teachable moments is more important than quantity of interactions.  You cannot call sitting next to other kids and playing the iPad as parallel play: Kindergarten classes should have play house areas, puzzles, independent science exploration, etc. according to Froebel’s* original design.  If your kindergarten does not have these areas, beware- your kid will probably be doing worksheets or iPad play as “busy work.”  I’m so glad we pulled him out of the public school district and got rid of the iPad.  I know that I can’t deny that we are in an age where technology rules:  It is and forever will be a part of our lives.  However, I do believe the length of usage should be monitored in young children.  Our son has been a lot happier without the chance to play with the iPad looming over his head.  He still gets anxious with the chance of watching shows on the computer, but we’ve minimized the anxiety with a schedule of what needs to happen before he watches.  Therefore, he is responsible for time management and making the choice to get his work done to watch.  The days where he already knows he won’t be watching or consciously chooses not to get his work done are the best days (as far as behaviors are concerned).  We’ve even started to see that spark of life in his eyes again.

What’s more fun for a kid than watching TV?  Get a box with a hole in the top.  Turn it over on its side.  Gather some toys, dolls, and other props.  Take turns making TV shows.  The parent can make up social stories to act out in their feature presentation.  It’s fun for all ages!

*Friedrich Froebel brought kindergarten to America from Germany.  He believed children should learn through self-directed exploration.  They should learn mainly through play and daily chores.


Cyr, B., Berman, S., & Smith, M.  (2015). The Role of Communication Technology  in Adolescent Relationships and Identity Development. Child & Youth Care Forum, 44(1), 79-92.  doi: 10.1007/s10566-014-9271-0

Priddis, L. E., Landy, S., Moroney, D., & Kane, R. (2014). An Exploratory Study of Aggression in School-Age Children: Underlying Factors and Implications for Treatment. Australian Journal Of Guidance & Counselling, 24(1), 18-35. doi:10.1017/jgc.2013.12


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