Keeping kids safe

Children have few defense mechanisms against the power of technology

2x
More Time
On Devices
In 2019 children under age 14 spent nearly twice as long with tech devices (3:18 hours/day) as they did conversing with their families (1:43 hours/day).

We benefit from today’s amazing tech platforms in many ways. They help to keep families connected and put a world of information at our fingertips.

We are all shaped by our relationships with the world around us, especially our family, teachers, friends, and colleagues. This is even more true when it comes to children, and this is exactly why parents care so deeply about their kids’ closest relationships.

As it turns out, there’s a new relationship with growing, exceptionally intimate access to our children’s brains: their relationship with smartphones and tablets. A 2019 study in the UK found that children under age 14 spent nearly twice as long with tech devices (3 hours and 18 minutes per day) as they did conversing with their families (1 hour and 43 minutes per day).¹

This is a natural result of many cultural shifts: particularly in industrialized countries, family units are shrinking, while economic pressures increase, which means more parents are struggling through long work days without the support of extended family to raise their children. This is especially true of low and middle-income families, where one or both parents work multiple jobs. And almost all parents face their own battle with their devices, averaging over 3 hours a day on their phones.

It’s not surprising that parents often turn to tech devices. With their unnaturally bright screens and colorful icons, these devices easily capture the interest of even the youngest children. And when children can actually understand the content they’re engaging with, devices become even more magnetic. With underdeveloped pre-frontal cortexes, children don’t stand much chance in a battle against asymmetrically powerful technology that is designed to grab their attention and keep them watching, clicking, and sharing. Even when their friends are outside playing.

Unfortunately, this intimate shaping of our children’s brains has critical consequences:

1) Delayed brain development

A 2019 study correlated brain imaging via MRIs with behavioral testing, showing that 3-5 year old kids with more than 1 hour of screen time a day showed lower levels of development in key parts of the brain that affect language, literacy, cognitive skills, and executive function.

2) Shifts in values toward narcissism

Kids are brilliant at intuitively learning the rules of the world around them. On social media, they naturally learn the prevalent currency of likes, comments, and shares--complete with the related pressures of social comparison and influencer culture. Their sense of belonging and self-worth becomes increasingly intertwined with this currency of attention gathering. It’s a culture of getting rather than giving—valuing individual wealth and influence over service and community. These pressures are one reason high depressive symptoms for 13-18 year old teen girls rose 170% between 2010-2017 after nearly two decades in decline.

3) Cyberbullying

Though anonymity can be helpful for a small range of particularly vulnerable conversations, it often brings out the worst in children and adults. This is because anonymity, and even online interactions, distance us from the consequences of our words and actions, without leveraging the magic physiological hardware we have: our eyes, our expressions, our ability to read another person’s body language, and to empathize deeply with the experience someone’s going through right in front of us. Cyberbullying is particularly harmful consequence of online interactions: children who are cyberbullied are 3x more likely to engage in suicidal ideation than non-bullied children.

4) De-emphasizing offline interactions (Twenge’s work)

Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, online interactions have become a much larger percentage of teenagers’ behavior. As a result, they are spending less time with their friends, dating less, less likely to get enough sleep (which correlates highly with obesity), and more likely to feel lonely.
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CHT stands for a total reimagining of the technology landscape: we need new business models, new product development cultures, new products, and more. This problem affects us all, and you can be part of the solution.

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Investors

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References

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