In today’s increasingly interconnected world, technology is a double-edged sword whose impact on people’s everyday life can be either positive or negative, depending on how one uses it. The Internet, smart televisions, smartphones, computers, self-driving cars, face-detecting systems and e-commerce platforms are only some of the technological advances that are changing the way in which people work, communicate, network, buy, sell, obtain information and keep themselves informed about what is going on in the world. Even children are becoming increasingly reliant on technology to perform a wide range of activities. Online games, social networking websites and e-learning platforms are being used by children across the world to kill time, stay in touch with their friends, do their homework and keep themselves entertained. In order to determine whether and to what extent children should be encouraged / allowed to use technology, it is important to first analyze the way in which technology has been found to affect young users’ development.
On the one hand, technologies such as the Internet, personal computers and smartphones have made it possible for children across the world to access a vast amount of valuable resources and information in an easy, convenient and affordable way. On the other hand, numerous studies have revealed that excessive Internet use may result in security incidents, poor academic performance and, last but not least, serious mental issues. Considering that contemporary young children live in a world enveloped by computers and smartphones, it is no wonder that adults across the world are becoming increasingly concerned about the potentially detrimental effects of technology on their children. In an attempt to identify the most developmentally appropriate ways for digital natives to use technology, researchers have spent the past two decades exploring the impact of technology on young users’ mental development, physical health and academic performance, thus contributing greatly to our understanding of this phenomenon.
Analyzing the way in which technology has changed the lives of children in developing countries, experts have reached the conclusion that technology can be a powerful development tool as well as an effective equalizer, as long as it is used in the right manner (Kelly, 2013). Based on the assumption that technology can offer underprivileged children a brighter future, a U.S. association called One Laptop per Child has spent the past twelve years providing children in developing countries with low-cost laptops to use both at home and at school. Over the past decade, OLPC has rolled out over 400,000 laptops to children in Peru, hoping that their project would improve the quality of the country’s education system by enabling students to acquire useful skills and notions. In order to determine whether OLPC’s laptops had a positive impact on Peruvian children’s development and academic achievements, Cristia et al. (2017) explored the relationship between increased access to technology and human capital acquisition by examining a large amount of data collected in 318 public schools that took part in the program. Interestingly, their research revealed that while increased computer use did not affect students’ test scores, many participants exhibited stronger thinking processes, meaning that increased access to technology may have had a positive impact on participating children’s general cognitive skills (Cristia et al., 2017, p. 318).
It is also worth pointing out that technology has been found to play a key role in strengthening young users’ cross-cultural sensitivity – a skill that many employers associate with effective multicultural communication. In a world where people from different cultural, racial and ethnic backgrounds are still learning to coexist and cooperate in a peaceful and mutually beneficial manner, those of us who understand and appreciate how cultural factors influence human behavior are less likely to get involved in potentially detrimental cross-cultural conflicts – hence international organizations’ growing demand for culturally sensitive employees. While scholars and practitioners are still in the process of assessing the relationship between technology and cross-cultural sensitivity, it is becoming increasingly clear that Internet technologies could potentially facilitate communication between different groups within a pluralist society (Semiarto, 2014; Issa, Isaias & Kommers, 2015). Back in 1995, councilor education expert D’Andrea (1995) argued that since American society was being reshaped by digitalization and cultural diversification, both parents and educators needed to use technology to promote multicultural awareness among children. D’Andrea also encouraged elementary schools to place more emphasis on computer and multicultural literacy in order to equip children with the right tools to thrive in an increasingly technological and multicultural society (1995).
By bringing children into contact with the external world, technology can have a tremendously positive impact on young users, opening up new exciting opportunities while driving innovation. Twenty years ago, children would spend most of their free time outside, interacting with their peers face to face and playing games that stimulated their imagination and creativity. Their sensory world was relatively simple as their knowledge of the outside world was primarily based on things that they had actually experienced first-hand by riding their bicycles, picking flowers and doing all those things that ordinary children used to do. Today’s children are different. Instead of going to the park or playing with their friends in the backyard, most children would rather stay at home, playing videogames and / or exchanging messages over the Internet. This does not mean that today’s children have no friends or are incapable of maintaining good, healthy relations with their peers. While many nostalgic adults see technology as an evil demon that has ruined their children’s lives, it is important to keep in mind that similarly to the radio, the telephone and the television, the Internet has replaced old patterns and habits with new ones. It is also worth pointing out that available data suggests that exposure to videogames and other screen media can make children more reactive and responsive, improve their visual-spatial capabilities and even help them become more detail-oriented. To those who argue that technology is making children increasingly stupid, researchers have responded by publishing findings indicating that while today’s children are not particularly good at remembering things, they are becoming exceptionally skilled at remembering where to find things – as a result of the growing popularity and availability of search engines.
Technology also comes with a unique set of threats and disadvantages. When provided with unrestricted access to the Internet and videogames, children may end up giving up sensitive information about themselves, interacting with pedophiles or cybercriminals, accessing potentially harmful content and putting their lives at risks. Over the past few years, numerous children and teenagers have taken their lives because of technology. In the United States alone, violent videogames (e.g. Call of Duty), online bullying and dangerous Internet games (e.g. the Blue Whale) have resulted in dozens of young users suiciding out of anxiety, depression, desperation or fun. These phenomena have caused caregivers across the world to worry about their children’s growing exposure to mobile technologies, with a significant percentage of adults fearing that mobile technology may have a negative impact on young users’ imagination, creativity and academic performance (Radesky et al., 2016, pp. 504-505). As Radesky (2016, pp. 505) observed, available data also indicates that stressed families tend to use technology as an inexpensive tool to entertain and educate their children – even though their poor understanding of novel mobile technologies makes them very anxious about their potentially negative effects on their children’s development.
With that being said, there are also many parents out there who see technology as an effective tool to help their children foster a range of desirable skills. Tablet computers and smartphones are currently being used to get children to learn foreign languages, become tech-savvy, learn how to use all those productive suites that modern companies require their employees to use on a daily basis, interact with people from all over the world and improve their communication and concentration skills (Taylor, 2012). As Mann (2017) pointed out, many primary schools in the United Kingdom have already integrated digital writing technologies into their usual classroom practices in order to strengthen their pupils’ writing skills; after comparing traditional writing tools to technological ones, the researcher concluded that tablet computers and digital pens could potentially play an essential role in supporting handwriting-based learning in the near future. With regards to the relationship between technology and education, O’Leary (2015) reported that more and more tech companies are rolling out new technological solutions to help schools address a wide range of problems – e.g. making access to both digital and non-digital content easier and inexpensive; improving literacy; modelling pro-social behavior; providing teachers with convenient tools to plan lessons and assess students. Such solutions tend to rely on gamification to prompt children to see learning as an entertaining activity, rather than a chore or punishment. Considering that most children would rather play videogames than study, gamification is an excellent way to put fun back in the learning equation in order to engage young students. Offering children virtual rewards such as badges, titles and points in return for their hard work, for example, is highly likely to result in greater involvement, especially if educators find a way to turn such rewards into something tangible that students can use either at school or outside of the learning course.
Despite recent evidence clearly suggesting that technology can help children develop a wide range of desirable skills, many experts believe that by granting children too much screen time, parents may actually harm the very abilities that they wish to foster. Since every stage of development comes with a unique set of challenges and opportunities, it is crucial that parents should assist their little ones in making the most out of technology by monitoring their screen time and teaching them how to use their digital devices to access valuable and beneficial resources. As children’s role models and most influential teachers, parents should also avoid spending an excessive amount of time watching their favorite shows on television, reading the news on their tablet computers and checking their social media profiles on their smartphones. With so many adults spending most of their free time glued to technological devices, it is no wonder that more and more families across the world are starting to experience serious communication issues. In order for children to thrive in today’s technological society without developing an addiction to their smartphones, it is important that adults do their part by being an example for their little ones.
In conclusion, technological innovation is a phenomenon that cannot be stopped. Similarly to the printing press, the television and other ground-breaking innovations, the Internet and digital devices have disrupted established industries and patterns, making it necessary for both users and organizations to adapt in order not to be left behind. Instead of seeing technology as a threat to children’s development and safety, adults should allow and help young people use the Internet and other ubiquitous technologies in such a way to expand their capabilities, gain a deeper understanding of the external world, learn new things, become more confident and gain access to the many opportunities that today’s globalized world has to offer. Instead of forbidding children from using technology, both parents and educators should teach children how to use digital devices as tools to improve themselves and realize their full potential.