Technology addiction is having quite a moment, as evidence mounts that electronic devices, especially smartphones, may contribute to screen-time dependence. That means more scrutiny for the big-name hardware and software companies.
Just recently, Apple was chided by its investors for not facilitating more ways to protect children. Stakeholders said that the Cupertino, California-based company should "offer parents more choices and tools."
But Apple isn't the only company that is facing privacy concerns. As Amazon wraps up a record-breaking holiday season with booming sales of the Echo and similar Alexa-enabled devices, some say the tech is so good that it can be habit-forming, as well. Using what is called "internal triggers," Nir Eyal, author of "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, say that using Alexa can cause people to make strong mental associations with the product that can be hard to break.
Google Home, the smart speaker and home assistant which offers consumers the opportunity to transform many of their everyday tasks into voice-commanded exploits, falls into that category, as well.
But is dependence on Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices the same as, say, relying on the iPhone? Experts tell us the screen is the thing.
One aspect to keep in mind is that unlike smartphones, which can lead kids into a seemingly never-ending rabbit hole of content without the benefit of social interaction, the Amazon Echo and Google Home both have decidedly different technology environs.
"Playing a game with an adult or another child using a voice-enabled device, you're not focused on a screen, so the interaction encourages you to look at each other and pay attention to each other," Solace Shen, a Cornell University researcher who has children's use of technology, told CNBC. "That's a unique advantage of these voice enabled systems. If they're designed right, they can be unobtrusive, but speak up when needed."
That being said, tech addiction is real and should not be taken lightly. As we've previously written, sensory overload of digital technology can hinder brain development of young children. In fact, psychotherapist and author Dr. Nicholas Kardaras calls tech's strong hold on children "digital heroin."
So what’s a parent to do if they see signs that their child is becoming a little too engrossed in digital life? Here are three things to be on the lookout for.
More time on devices: Little Johnny used to power up his iPad mere minutes or an hour a day, but you notice him spending longer and longer time periods on the device. "Kids might have enjoyed it for 10 minutes, now they need it for an hour or two hours or three," Oren Amitay, a psychologist in Toronto, told Live Science mag.
Screen time becomes problematic: Rather than focusing on the amount of time spent on a device, researchers say the real question is whether it's disruptive to your family life. "If screen time interferes with daily activities, causes conflict for the child or in the family, or is the only activity that brings the child joy," says a University of Michigan study on the issue.
Disinterest in other activities: According to Health XChange, "Disengagement from activities, such as insisting to go home to use the device and refusing to perform other usual daily routines (such as going to bed) to continue playing with the device," is a clear sign that something may be wrong.
Money expert Clark Howard says that he has established firm ground rules for technology in his home. "In my house, I have a 9 p.m. rule where no one in the house gets online after that hour at night," he writes. "Such a curfew allows my wife and I to have some chill time to actually have a conversation with each other after the kids go to sleep."
As always the key to all of this is to actively monitor your child's screen time, especially if they have other conditions. "As games and apps — even educational ones —are designed to keep users' interest, tech addiction is possible in young children, especially those with autism spectrum disorder who have a limited range of interests and a tendency to develop a preoccupation," Dr. Soong Chi Mei, senior psychologist at the Department of Child Development, told Health XChange.
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