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Is technology harmful?

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By Dr Richard HouseSenior Lecturer in Psychotherapy and Counselling at Roehampton University and co-founder of Open EYE

Recent research links exposure to televisual technologies in early childhood with negative long-term effects. Dr Richard House puts the case for a precautionary approach to ICT

Child watching television

The media is awash with new research findings detailing that exposure to televisual technologies in early childhood is associated with negative developmental effects.

Research by Dr Linda Pagani of the University of Montreal referred to ‘extremely negative long-term effects’ of early exposure to television (BBC News website, March 2010). It is of course always important not to assume causality from mere statistical associations but there is now so much empirical research accumulating in this field along with anecdotal experience and common-sense arguments, that many authorities are claiming with evermore urgency that early exposure to ICT is rapidly becoming a major public health hazard.

Worrying results

Pagani’s study involved over 1,300 children born in Quebec in 1997–8. Parents were asked how much TV their children watched at 29 and 53 months of age. Then, at the age of ten, the children were rated on variables such as maths and reading performance, attention span, cooperation with others and quality of social interactions. Every extra hour above average viewing-time was associated with, for example, a seven per cent decrease in classroom engagement, a 13 per cent decrease in weekend physical activity and a five per cent increase in body mass index. Importantly, these findings held true even after the researchers accounted for alternative factors that could have influenced the results.

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Reviews

  1. Jennifer
    on 10 November 2010

    Is technology harmful?

    With reference to David Bell’s statement: “pre-school children lack language skills compared with previous generations – and television was top of the list of culprits”. The answer could possibly be that children lack language skills because adults are far too obsessed with viewing television. I have personally seen parents multitasking, sitting with a laptop using the internet, a mobile phone in one hand, as well as watching television. Perhaps researchers should include into their studies the percentage of time parents spend using technology. They may find that it is not just the amount of time children are spending watching television but rather the quantity and quality of time parents spend interacting and conversing with their children. How many parents come home from work and the first thing they do out of habit is to switch the television on to watch the news, sport, or their favorite soap opera. Children are exposed to technology through their parents, who are their role models.