It’s a good time to do a midsummer evaluation about how your children are managing their lives, especially their technology use in comparison to their activity levels and social experiences. Ask yourself, “How are my children spending the majority of their time this summer?”

Even when used for educational purposes with focuses on reading, math, graphic design and other types of learning, technology apps are developed to increase a child’s addictive tendencies toward the technology use.

So what happens to the brains of children and teens who do not engage in physical and social activities and instead prefer to use technology? That’s a question that we don’t yet have the answer to because we don’t have longitudinal studies that have followed a technology using child’s brain development into their adult lives. However, there is research data that suggests that teens who spend the majority of their free time using technology tend to be more depressed and anxious.

Social interaction builds self-esteem, cooperation and leadership skills, and those skills are not as likely to develop if your child is using an excess of technology. Too much sedentary time while using screens can lead to obesity and health and heart diseases in children. While it’s important to remember that not all technology is bad for children, most children don’t know how to self-regulate their technology use to avoid using technology excessively.

Parents need to be aware that even the education apps that youths use are developed by experts, such as specially trained psychologists, with the goal of “hooking” the child on the app. Last August, many psychologists wrote to the American Psychological Association and asked that they deem psychologist involvement in the development of social media and gaming apps to be unethical. The technology companies who create these apps rely on psychologists to help them develop technology that will increase a child’s level of addiction toward that technology, leading to more use and greater revenue for the technology companies.

In April, the World Health Organization published recommendations regarding activity, behavior and sleep for children younger than 5 that includes specific directives about what they term “sedentary screen time.” According to these new WHO guidelines, children ages 2-5 should be limited to only 60 minutes of screen time per day, and less is better. In my opinion, children age 5 and under have not fully developed their imagination and creative play skills in the real world, and therefore, introducing technology before creative play is mastered may make this developmental milestone more challenging for children.

The WHO reported that children under 2 should not spend time using any screens. WHO’s new screen use recommendations are similar to guidelines issued in 2016 by the American Academy of Pediatrics that state that kids between 2 and 5 should use no more than one hour of screen time daily and that children under 18 months should use no screen time.

According to the nonprofit Common Sense Media, so-called tweens, children ages 8-12, spend nearly six hours per day using media, and teenagers average closer to nine hours a day. The potential for addiction is high with this much technology use because the brain becomes accustomed to that level of stimulation and craves it when it is removed.

All of this information is tip of the iceberg regarding what is known about the impact of technology use on the developing brain. Parents should be involved and monitor their child’s technology use. Use rates are up in some communities in the summer when youths have little structure and more free time than when in school.

Dr. Kate Roberts is a licensed child and school psychologist and family therapist on the North Shore. Ask a question or make a comment at kate@drkateroberts.com.

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