The App Generation

While studies are ongoing regarding the practices and effects of app use, experts in childhood development are calling for increased education and awareness about the potential dangers that threaten our kids. Mark Vonnegut, M.D., of MVPediatrics in Quincy, has witnessed the effectiveness of apps for keeping children entertained, but sees them falling dramatically short when it comes to essential human interaction. “The screen can do many things, but it can’t respond to a child’s facial expression or comfort or discomfort,” says Vonnegut. “The kid is going to be there sticking out his or her tongue or doing hand signals, and a human will wave back, but the screen completely ignores them.”


Sobering Implications


While parents have long used TV to manage their children, research confirms technology as clearly more addictive. It’s a dangerous proposition to use apps – as you might also with sugar – as an incentive for good behavior. “Children need to learn in the real world how to manage their frustration … how to be patient … how to adapt,” says psychologist and parenting coach Kate Roberts, Ph.D


Vonnegut’s experience suggests too much app use at early ages contributes to high levels of attention deficit disorder, and he sees connections to health and wellness concerns ranging from autism, anxiety and depression to insomnia and social anxiety. “When I am treating a child, part of the diagnostic procedure always involves assessing how much time the patient is spending on media,” he says.


The Wr-App


Statistics reveal on the whole we are failing as parents to protect our children from the inherent risks of increased media exposure. Childhood is not only a crucial phase for development; it should be a special period that yields a rich harvest of precious memories and interests that span a lifetime. Every moment a child spends in the virtual world is time she could have been doing something critical in the only world that matters – the real one.


• Spend time with your kids when using apps. It should be an opportunity for a conversation and never a replacement for supervision.


• Use creative and educational apps only as a supplement to real-world experience.


• Be responsible for overseeing app use – set time limits, learn about the games and know who they are playing with online.


Red Flags:


• If the app is the first thing they go for in the morning and the last thing they do at night.


• When kids under-report their time or use deceptive behavior to play more.


• When apps are an escape from real-life situations and common problems.


• When it becomes a power struggle. Parents should be able to dictate when and how apps are used.


Addressing Addictive Behavior:


• Provide structure and fill your child’s days with activities so apps become an afterthought.


• Cutting back really helps. Attitudes improve when technology overload is limited or removed.

Brian Spero is a writer and parent of a school-age son.

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29 Sep 2013

By Brian Spero