A Developing Member in the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America
Serving Children From Early Childhood Through Eighth Grade
Too Much Tech Time
by Kathryn Koehler
It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.
- Albert Einstein.
How many times have you and your child had discussions concerning electronic media and your reasons for not allowing it or limiting the amount of time spent using it? As a Waldorf parent I have this discussion with my eight year old on a regular basis. His cousin has a Nintendo DS, why doesn’t he? His best friend has fourteen (14!) Webkinz – those plush animals that you must be online to feed, groom and pamper. He is the only child in the world that doesn’t have a Wii, or so he tells me; or a cell phone, or a computer / television in his bedroom. He can produce quite a list when he really gets going.
But each afternoon when I finally drag him away from outdoor play at school, “Oh, Mom, five more minutes, Ph-leeeeeeeeez!!!”, and we arrive home, he immerses himself in imaginary play, sometimes outdoors, sometime in, until I call him for dinner, never once mentioning the myriad electronic gadgets that he thinks he wants. For this I am thankful.
I am thankful for the Waldorf philosophy concerning mainstream media and electronics, which has limited my child’s exposure to them. I am thankful that my child is not addicted to being mindlessly entertained and distracted. And I am thankful that this is apparently the healthy approach to rearing a child. Two studies brought to my attention recently bare this out.
The first, The Sydney Myopia Study, which was supported by the National Health & Medical Research Council, Canberra, Australia, discovered that the lowest rates of myopia (near-sightedness) were associated with the highest rates of outdoor activity, and that the dramatic increase in childhood myopia is a result of children not getting enough fresh air and sunshine. Originally thought to be attributable to the excess hours spent slumped in front of a computer or a TV, the study discovered that there is a direct correlation between exposure to sunlight and slower maturation of the eye. The eyes of children who develop myopia grow excessively, leading to a mismatch between the optical power of the eye and its axial length. "The release of dopamine from the retina is prompted by higher light intensities, and there is evidence that dopamine can act as an inhibitor of eye growth," says Kathryn Rose, of the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney, "This provides a very plausible mechanism by which time spent outdoors could prevent the development of myopia. Prevention of myopia,” Dr. Rose continues, “is important for future eye health, avoiding increased rates of cataract and glaucoma in adulthood.”
The second study, Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds was conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a U.S.-based non-profit, private foundation. The most recently released information is the third in a series that was begun in 1999, and studied again in 2004.
The researchers themselves were alarmed that the amount of time 8-18 year olds spend with “entertainment media” has risen dramatically, 1 hour and 30 minutes more per day, since their 2004 study, in which they presumed that the ceiling had been hit and that there was no way for this number to increase. Factor in that most kids are “multi-tasking” i.e. listening to music while texting, talking on the phone while watching television, and the average tween/teen is exposed to 10 hours and 45 minutes of entertainment media a day, or approx. 75 hours per week. The study found that the children who were exposed to the most entertainment media were more likely to be overweight and maladjusted (i.e. academic and behavior problems at school, problems maintaining peer and family relationships).Victoria Rideout, the lead author of the Kaiser report, says that the study found that children used much less media in homes with rules and limits concerning media use.
No surprises really, except the appallingly large (75 hours a week???) amount of time the average American 21st”century teen is spending turned on and tuned out. So while in our children’s eyes we may not seem like the hippest parents on the block, we at least have research that says we are. “Look deep into nature, Einstein said, “and then you will understand everything better.
Links to the two studies:
Sydney Myopia Study
Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-to 18-Year-Olds
Link to a New York Times article:
If Your Kids Are Awake, They're Probably Online
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