New technology causes concern about effect on childhood development

Navigating the digital age as parents

DENVER - Can children become addicted to technology?

A psychologist in the U.K. said technology addiction is a real condition. His youngest patient is a 4-year-old girl who can’t seem to give up the iPad.

But it is an issue psychologists debate.

“Is technology shaping the way children learn? Sure. Is it doing irreparable harm? I think that’s what’s really on the table,” said Kim Gorgens, clinical psychology associate professor at the University of Denver.

A quick search of YouTube yields a three-year-old working on a laptop, a two-year-old using an iPad and a 10-month-old scrolling through a smartphone.

It’s the scene inside millions of homes.

“I have a lot of concerns about it,” said parent Dad Opyd. “I’m concerned that I lose control about what they’re exposed to and what the messages they’re receiving are.”

Opyd works for a small software company.

“My job is technology,” he said.

Yet, his three children, spanning kindergarten through fifth grade, don’t have access to a smartphone.

“No, they don’t have iPhones. I told my son when he’s 21 he can get his first phone,” Opyd joked.

Opyd’s children are students at The Denver Waldorf School.

No computers, no iPads, no technology at school for these students. Instead, musical instruments, needles and yarn.

“We actually teach by doing,” said School Administrator Judy Lucas.

Teachers at the Waldorf School use every day items and hands-on lessons, meant to make learning stick.

“Do you worry about your kids being left behind and not knowing how to use technology when they’re going to need it?” asked 7NEWS Anchor Ana Cabrera.

“That’s a great question, and the answer is no, I don’t worry about it at all. Children learn so quickly,” said Opyd.

That’s one train of thought. But that’s not the only approach.

Just across town, Aspen Academy provides every 5-year-old access to an iPad.

“It can be used in a good way, at times,” argued mom Carrie West. “It’s something that’s here, and it’s part of their generation. So, I think it’s important to expose them to that.”

At Aspen Academy, technology in the classroom is part of the curriculum.

Teachers told 7NEWS it’s not the focus of learning, but can be used as a tool, “to supplement a reading activity or a research activity,” said Debbie Cordero, director of the early education program.

Opyd and West both want what’s best for their children. So, is there a right or wrong approach?

Gorgens told 7NEWS, when it comes to early childhood development, there is no clear answer.

“That kids will learn differently goes without saying. That different is worse somehow is totally up for debate and there’s no indication that it is worse right now,” she said.

But she warned, “When the attention is more focused on technology, in lieu of social engagement, for example, or in lieu of academic work, or at the expense of other activities that they might otherwise enjoy, that’s when technology engagement starts to become problematic. (It's) at the cost of other areas of living, really.”

Gorgens said those cases are not common. In fact, she called reports of so-called technology addiction, “fear mongering.”

She said there is no proof technology, alone, is harmful to a child’s development. She urged more research over an extended period of time.

The bottom line, Gorgens said, is children need a variety of experiences and a good balance is the key.

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