TERRY TALKS: “Children and Media”
Your Guide for Further Learning and Conversation
This supplemental guide is filled with information to help lead conversations about children’s media exposure and technology use so that you can help children grow and understand how to use technology and respond to media in a healthy way.
Let’s get started with a few questions for conversation:
What types of media and technology do children in your family or community use most?
In what ways, if any, have you noticed media’s influence on children?
Technology is advancing every day and media’s global reach is expanding right alongside these advancements. Here are some current statistics:
- YouTube is growing at a rate of 100 hours of new videos every minute.
- Publishers release 1,500 new online books every day.
- Radio stations broadcast nearly 70 million hours of content each year.
- The internet is composed of about 70 billion internet users on the planet. Together, these internet users compose and send about 300 billion e-mails, 500 million tweets, and upload about 100 million photos to Facebook every day.
Children are growing up in a world where social media, mobile technology and online communities are fundamental to the way that they communicate and learn. In recent years, the speed and affordability of digital technology has enabled millions of young people in developing countries to join the digital world.
How have technology and media changed for children today compared to when you were growing up?
What risks exist for children today because of technology’s expanding reach and accessibility?
Technology by itself is not good or bad. Today’s technology can improve our lives, but the way we engage with it can also cause serious damage. In order to keep children safe, it is important for parents and caring adults to recognize how technology and media can affect a child’s brain.
Early life experiences matter. The newborn brain triples in size in the first 2 years of life. We are born with a lifetime of brain cells, but it is through our early experiences that brain connections are formed and strengthened. As we get older, these earlier experiences shape our brains. Too little or too much stimulation can have negative effects on brain development.
This current generation is using technology in a way that has never been seen before. Prolonged exposure to rapid image changes, as seen in many children’s videos, TV shows and video games, during critical periods of brain development can lead to inattention and memory problems later in life. Further, real life will not hold a child’s attention the way that videos and movies are designed to do.
Over the last ten years, technology has become a driving force in the lives of people across the world. More than two billion of us now have access to the internet and five billion of us have mobile phones.
Current research shows that increased use and experience with technology does not necessarily lead to decreased risk, so who is vulnerable online and why?
Can improved digital skills reduce risk, or will increased exposure to online media always equal increased exposure to risk?
Children and Media in the Developing World
Young people are natural adopters of new technologies. Mobile phone technology in developing countries now accounts for four out of every five connections worldwide.
In Africa, mobile phones are more common than home computers. Internet cafes act as points of access for many children, often with limited or no supervision. Research shows that where parents and teachers have little training or support in internet use, children engage in more risky behaviors online, such as contacting strangers, sharing pictures with strangers and providing personal information.
In Vietnam, research shows that up to a quarter of children in urban areas and one in every five children in rural areas had shared personal information, such as their phone number or name of their school with someone online. In South Africa, more than 70% of users talked to strangers through online social networking sites at least once a week. In Vietnam, 49% of urban children had been exposed to indecent content online, while 20% of rural children reported having been bullied, threatened or embarrassed online.
Children can be vulnerable both online and offline due to internal factors, such as their stage of development and self-esteem, as well as external factors, such as the presence of adults or peer pressure. Research indicates that children who are traditionally vulnerable offline are also vulnerable online. And those whose parents or teachers have limited technological skills are likely to have low digital skills as well.
Do you think the accessibility of media and the internet today has made children who are traditionally not vulnerable offline become newly vulnerable online?
How can we protect children in our communities from being vulnerable online?
Technology has the potential to be a huge force for good or ill, but one thing is clear — it will play an increasingly important part of millions of young people’s lives across the world.
So, what do we do with all of this information? It is important to know that you have a stronger influence on children than you think. As parents and caring adults, we need to educate and support children in developing healthy technology habits.
Parents and caring adults need to educate and support children in developing healthy technology habits. Here are some good strategies to get started:
Set Wise Limits
Children need to learn how technology works and affects their behavior. Adolescent brains are primed for risk-taking and reward-seeking. Technology is designed to capture attention and causes the release of little bursts of dopamine to the reward center of the brain.
Time limits are necessary because our brain can easily lose its awareness of time. Time is precious and given to us by God. Technology can cause us to lose track of time, which results in responsibilities being overlooked and relationships neglected. We need to help our children learn to live in the present.
Insist on Supervision
Help children understand that, while technology is not bad in and of itself, there are risks, and you want to keep them safe. Let them know that supervision is not about taking away their freedom or not trusting them, but rather a way to protect them and teach them how to have healthy boundaries with technology.
Talk About What Your Children See in the Media
Ask your children what they see in the media and help them interpret what it means. Children are trusting and do not have enough life experience to discern what is real and what is exaggerated. Help them understand that not everything they see online, in print or on TV is true.
Encourage Quiet Time
The mind needs moments of quiet to think, process and perceive. Technology makes it hard for the mind to be still. Discuss what Scripture says about stillness and the importance of quiet moments in our relationship with God and others. Explain that people who use social media on a regular basis are more prone to anxiety, depression and stress.
The brain is vulnerable to the quick distraction that technology offers. But this distraction robs the brain of amazing, imaginative moments. When the brain is not being actively stimulated and distracted, it is an incredible opportunity for children to be creative!
Turn off Technology in the Evening
Sleep is critical for the brain. Many children with poor boundaries are not sleeping enough because of technology use late into the night. This leaves their brains unprepared for the next day. Without enough sleep, our brains do not have time to go through the necessary process of repairing, filing and processing the events of the day.
Encourage In-Person Connections
Face-to-face interaction is best. The availability of texting, social media and even some game playing often causes relationships to become digital. The temptation to connect digitally can be hard to resist because it is so quick and convenient. God designed our brains for face-to-face connections. A child needs to have face-to-face contact to help them learn how to interact with others.
The Bible says to “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) That training should cover all areas of your child’s life. Since technology is everywhere, it is important for you to help children navigate its influence on their lives.
Closing Conversation Questions:
What areas do you need to pay attention to when it comes to technology?
How can you initiate a conversation about technology and media with the children in your life?
Here’s the one thing we all need to know:
Parents are the single most powerful influence in a child’s life when it comes to almost everything. There is no one in a better position to change how children are affected by the media than a parent. No one has more influence, cares more, and knows their own child better.