Pros and cons of digital devices in the hands of young students

by Kelly Walsh on June 20, 2012

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Are the benefits outweighing the downsides of potentially excessive use of these devices by younger and younger children?

I have three kids and they love their tech tools, but I worry about the possible effects of electromagnetic radiation, and about the way in which time spent with these devices takes away from time they could be spending in more active pursuits. I also see skills and learning coming from their use of these tools. While I am clearly an advocate of technology, I also recognize that there are down sides and trade-offs that come with these advances. This guest post from Daniel Kimball reflects those realities and I look forward to hearing what readers think about this modern day dilemma. – K. Walsh

Digital devices are all the rage among young people today, across all ages. Tablets top the youngest student’s wish lists, pre-teens crave smart phones, and high school students would love to have both plus a laptop computer! MP3 players and other electronic devices are also widely used by many of today’s students.

Image from http://www.monitoringsoftwareblog.com

 

Are digital devices plugging our children into experiences that actually fuel their creativity and make them consider the world beyond their neighborhood or are they robbing our children of some of the joys of childhood? A rewarding childhood should include experiences like climbing trees, playing tag, selling lemonade and daydreaming – are these still quintessential experiences for many of today’s youth or are they too glued to their small screens to partake in these types of activities?

Let’s consider some of the pros and cons of the digital age as it reflects in the developing hands and minds of today’s young people.

PROS include …

Smartphones Can Give Parents Some Piece of Mind
Want to know where your child is at all times? Give them a smart phone. You can call or text your child to confirm their whereabouts. Many smart phones also contain GPS tracking that can be activated to specify the phone’s exact location.

Every School Supply List Should Include a Computer
The reality is, a computer has become necessary to complete many homework assignments.  Students are required to research a topic, and sometimes the most current and accurate data is found online (assuming a student knows how to leverage critical thinking skills to assess the validity of the information – check out “The Importance of Source Evaluation and Content Credibility Skills for Today’s Students” for more on that). School courses in latter grades will require typed reports. And even the beloved shoebox project – illustrating a summer vacation, depicting the Amazon rain forest – is enhanced with color printouts.

There’s an Awe-Inspiring Online World to Discover
The Information Age is a glorious gift to the curious child in many ways. Learn how to knit -  Identify the plants growing in the backyard – Research the family tree – Visit the depths of the ocean or the peak of the world’s tallest mountain without leaving the couch! Your child’s fondness for the search field may lead to real-life adventures later on.

Young Music Fans Can Access More Than Just The Top 40
It used to be that kids tuned into radios to listen to the latest releases.  Today, the radio may be where they are introduced to an artist or a band. But the next stop is usually online to download their favorite song. Even better, while exploring an online music store, they can sample every imaginable genre, from A Cappella to Zydeco.

Socialization & Social Learning
While this argument can go both ways (for example, the ‘heads down’ nature of kids walking around staring at their cell phones has a rather unsocial aspect to it), there is surely a strong element of socialization to many of the apps that young people use, such as Facebook and other social networking tools. Another possible upside to the social nature of some applications is the potential for social learning in the instructional setting.


CONS include …

Health Risks Associated with Digital Device Usage
Keeping the kids busy during a long car ride is a cinch thanks to digital devices that will play apps, games, music, movies and TV shows. But children often wear earbuds and headphones, and in doing so, risk irreversible eardrum damage if the volume is too loud. Further, the EPA confirms that computer screens emit low levels of x-ray radiation. While there is no evidence that this radiation results in health problems, the EPA also advises that you limit your child’s time with a computer or tablet in on their laps and in front of their faces. And because enjoying digital devices tends to be a sedentary pastime, children may be more susceptible to weight gain.

Exposure to Child Predators and Inappropriate Content
Many parents set limits on Internet use, and employ security and privacy features to protect their children. However, children can still find their way into an online chat room with strangers or click on an enticing ad that links to inappropriate content. Monitoring your child’s online activities is time-consuming, but imperative.

Once Posted, Always Online
Children don’t always understand that their online activities are permanent. Worse, their poor judgment could lead to serious, and sometimes criminal, consequences. Before allowing children online, parents should discuss the cyber dangers of bullying, illegal downloading, and texting.

Digital Devices May Be a Mind-Numbing Distraction
While plenty of children use their digital devices to download books, most are likely using their electronics to text friends, play apps or watch videos. Some argue that this technology overload is actually disconnecting our children – from nature, play and people.

So, do the pros outweigh the cons? This is still a topic that we understand little about. Surely technology opens up an amazing world of learning and productivity to today’s young students, but there are clearly dangers and legitimate concerns surrounding the use of these tools, and what constitutes too much use. It will probably be years before we start to really understand the impact of some of these drawbacks and potential issues. In the meanwhile, these tools are here to stay for the near term, so we should monitor their use and educate students on how to use them wisely without overusing them.

What other pros and cons can you add to this list?

Daniel is a writer that enjoys testing out the latest gadgets and technology as it hits the stores. He enjoys researching and writing about new tech trends, especially consumer technology and raves about his printers.

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):

 

Should hands-on technology be kept out of early grades? When is it okay to introduce technology?
7 Reasons To Leverage Social Networking Tools in the Classroom
The Gamification of Education and Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Learning Benefits

About 

Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer, and an adjunct faculty member, at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of EmergingEdTech.com. As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Class Workshop in a Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or Amazon.com or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

K. Walsh February 8, 2014 at 9:22 am

There are a lot of good points in these comments – from issues like proper recycling of this equipment, and low level radiation concerns, to the impact of brain development (a bit closer to the theme of the article). These are absolutely all part of the total equation and need to considered as we continue down the technology evolution path. If history is any indication, the tech isn’t going away, so we need to constantly strive to keep the total picture in mind and develop tech ecosystems that incorporate these issues and seek solutions. Thanks to everyone for these comments! Keep the dialogue going.

Kristen February 7, 2014 at 11:20 am

Interesting article and comments. I have to worry about the environmental [impact] all this technology will have on our children’s future. The thought of “paperless classrooms”, laptops and ipads, which a life expectancy of two, for every student, in every school in North America, is a huge environmental concern.
We are producing over 2 million tonnes of electronic garbage already and the use of electronic devices is projected to increase by 500% over the next 10 years. This e-garbage is causing air,water and land pollution at an alarming rate. Third world countries, such as Guiyu, China, are experiencing horrific health effects from the e-garbage we send overseas.
This environmental burden is seldom spoken of when discussing technology and 21st century learning. Our children’s education is a concern but I feel the health of our Earth may be of greater importance.

Scott Shelhart June 30, 2012 at 9:07 pm

“Further, the EPA confirms that computer screens emit low levels of x-ray radiation.”

This was true of CRT monitors from years gone by. I’d like to see a citation of your source . I do not think this is true for LCD/LED “flat screens” currently used in modern electronics.

Rosario June 22, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Bob, I’m certainly not a specialist. Just another teacher concerned about the same issues. The example you write about here looks worring, but in fact, it has happened to me many times that, after reading a great book and imagine every character in my mind, I came up to see the film and I was actually disappointed by “Disney characters”. So, I think that even if kids don’t have computers, they’ll have a TV. When you create something, you are in some way copying something that you have seen somewhere. Or even taking a few ideas from there. So, as it’s becoming increasingly difficult for us teachers to cope with all the tech that is sorrounding our students nowadays, the better solution for me would be including programs or apps that help kids develop their creativity from scratch. Apps that include Drawing activities, Polls where they can express themselves, etc. I’m using Nearpod for iPads right now, it’s awesome. But there’re many others. In this way, we don’t need to leave anything out of our lessons and take the chance to teach kids how to wisely use tech.

Hope this helps you, sorry for the never-ending answer :)

Jon Venlet June 21, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Great post! I agree with both the pros and cons but feel that all of the cons can be mitigated by responsible parents and educators, notice I didn’t just say teachers, I think this needs to be parapros, teachers, administrators, media specialists etc. By starting from the first day teaching kids how to responsibly use technology I think we can really cut down on the misuse and potential dangers.

Bob Holley June 21, 2012 at 7:28 am

I’m not an expert in this area, but I have read that too early exposure to computers can hinder creativity by substituting images and ideas from outside for the images and ideas that children might develop on their own. While this may be a minor example, my teacher spouse encountered a student who criticized the picture of Snow White in a book because it wasn’t the Disney version. She has also found it difficult to have students draw a monster from their imagination because they tend to repeat cultural icons or to ask her for a model.

I would appreciate comments from others who may know more about this issue than I do.

David Soliday June 20, 2012 at 1:22 pm

As we continue down the information superhighway we learn more about how technology is affecting us in subtle yet profound ways. Neural pathways in the brain are physically different in younger people who have grown up surrounded by the Internet and ever-present information and entertainment. It will affect their mindset, their worldview, and their generational culture in ways that may not manifest until they come of age and come into their own. It’s truly an exciting time to be alive. (I admit my bias as a technologist myself.)

It’s our duty as parents and educators to pass on values and morals that will ensure everyone can prosper and the Earth is preserved for many more generations to come. As for the technology, they’ll be teaching it to us before long as we are currently teaching technology to our parents.

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