Technology and 21st Century Parenting


In celebration of National Parenting Gifted Children Week, Great Potential Press is pleased to present a series of guest blog posts covering some of the biggest topics in childhood development and gifted education today. Arlene DeVries examines the current influx of technology in children’s lives and what that means for 21st century parents in her guest post.

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Communication has evolved over time from sending smoke signals, hieroglyphics, oral story telling, written word, printing press, and now electronic communication. What effect does this glut of fast paced communication have on our children and on our society? Is technology altering how our brains work? What is the role of the parent?


“Just as neurons that fire together wire together, neurons that don’t fire together don’t wire together. We gain new skills and perspectives, but lose old ones.” (Nicholas Carr, “The Juggler’s Brain,” Phi Delta Kappan, December 2010/January 2011.) The Net’s interactivity gives us powerful new tools for finding information, expressing ourselves and conversing with others. The growing use of screen-based technologies has led to sophisticated development of visual-spatial skills. The brain cells that are winning are those functions that help us speedily locate, categorize, and assess disparate bits of information in a variety of forms, that let us maintain our mental bearings while being bombarded by stimuli. The neural circuits devoted to scanning, skimming, and multitasking are expanding and strengthening.


The circuits that are weakening or eroding are those used for reading and thinking deeply, with sustained concentration. Carr describes the influence of technology on long-term memory as follows:

Imagine filling a bathtub with a thimble; that’s the challenge involved in transferring information from working memory into long-term memory. By regulating the velocity and intensity of information flow, media exert a strong influence on this process.  When we read a book, the information faucet provides a steady drip, which we can control by the pace of our reading. Through our single-minded concentration on the text, we can transfer all or most of the information, thimbleful by thimbleful, into long-term memory and forge the rich associations essential to the creation of schemas. With the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast. Our little thimble overflows as we rush from one faucet to the next. We’re able to transfer only a small portion of the information to long-term memory, and what we do transfer is a jumble of drops from different faucets, not a continuous, coherent stream from one source.


The average family has the television on more than six hours per day. Only about 10% of kid’s viewing time is spent watching children’s programming.  Moreover, TV cartoons display approximately 20 violent acts per hour. TheAmericanAcademy of Pediatrics suggests that viewing time for children 3 to 12 years of age be limited to one hour per day and that children under two years of age not have any television. OnOctober 25, 2011, the New York Times reported that 30% of children 0–1 year of age have TV in their bedrooms; 44% of those ages 2-4, and 47% of those ages 5-8 have television in their bedrooms. Children who spend a lot of screen time have a higher risk for future heart attacks and strokes. The coronary artery supplying blood to the eye narrows which means less blood flow to the target organs and can result in changes of blood pressure about 10 points higher. Brain development can be impacted by over stimulations of TV, leading kids to be less patient and more impulsive. By age 18, the average child has witnessed 200,000 acts of TV violence and 16,000 murders.


Tony Dokoupil in theAugust 16, 2012, “Newsweek,” reports: “Texting has become like blinking. The average person, regardless of age, sends or receives about 400 texts a month, four times the 2007 number. The average teen processes an astounding 3700 texts a month. More than two-thirds report feeling their phone vibrate when in fact nothing is happening.  Researchers call it ‘phantom-vibration syndrome.’ “


Eighty-eight percent of youth, ages 8-18 (based on a January 2007 Harris Poll of 1,178 children) play video games. 8.5% of gamers were defined as pathological players, an addiction treated like other forms of addiction. A study of 96 babies between 1 and 2 years old showed no relationship between the amount of exposure to baby media and the children’s general language development. Babies who learned the most words were not exposed to videos but learned from their parents during play and everyday activities. A growing number of adults are gaming. OnOctober 24, 2011, 26,000 from 50 states and 49 countries met inAnnaheim,CA at Blizzcom to play with folks they had never seen.


The AmericanAcademyof Pediatrics reported in March 2011, 75% of teens have Facebook accounts. 40% reported having made fun of peers. The incidence of cyber bullying is skyrocketing. Troubled teens with low self-esteem, who obsess over Facebook, can become depressed. Online harassment can cause profound psychological outcomes including suicide. On the other hand, some well-adjusted students find Facebook can enhance feelings of social connectedness. Have conversations about the use of the Net and teach your children to protect their identity. Youth can be “upstanders” rather than “bystanders.” It is estimated there are more than 160 million Facebook accounts, 160 million blogs, 190 million Twitter accounts. The White House convened a Conference on Bullying prevention and launched Cyberbullying affects all ages not just the young.


How can parents respond? The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute onMay 8, 2012, issued the following, “Tips to Reduce Screen Time.”

  • Talk to your family
  • Set a good example
  • Log screen time vs. active time
  • Make screen time active time
  • Set screen time limits
  • Create screen-free bedrooms
  • Make meal time, family time
  • Provide other options
  • Understand TV ads
  • Don’t use TV as reward or punishment


Dr. Daniel Sieberg in, “The Digital Diet,” suggests parents avoid peer pressure in purchasing technology. Buy only what makes sense for your family. Establish a fixed beginning and ending time for the use of media. Enjoy family meals without technology. Multi-tasking gives us a false sense of security. The brain can’t do two things at once. Douglas Rushkoff and Rachel Dretzin onJune 19, 2012, in a PBS, “Frontline: World Wide Web and Digital Media,” suggest it’s like reading and doing a crossword puzzle simultaneously, or texting and driving! Young people spend about 50 hours a week with digital media but that number increases if they are using several forms of media at once.  This “scattering” of the brain results in poor memory and analytical reasoning.


Chinese researchers conclude that Internet addiction results in “structural abnormalities in gray matter,” namely shrinkage of 10 to 20 percent in the area of the brain responsible for processing of speech, memory, motor control, emotion, sensory and other information. Peter Shybrow, director of the Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human behavior at UCLA, concludes, “The computer is like electronic cocaine,” fueling cycles of mania followed by depressive stretches. When the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is released, Internet Addiction Disorder will be included for the first time in an appendix tagged for “further study.”China,Taiwan, andKorearecently began treating problematic Web use as a grave national health crisis. In those countries tens of millions of people and as much as 30 percent of teens are considered Internet-addicted, mostly to gaming, virtual reality, and social media.


What’s a family to do? Begin by scheduling family time for picnics, cultural or recreational events, family vacations, and visits to historical sites.  Have family meals with conversation rather than I pads and I phones.Reading to children is a bonding experience that develops attention span and builds listening skills.Reading forces one to construct mental pictures and develop imagination, which is more neurologically demanding than processing images. Board games develop social skills, teach verbal communication, sharing, taking turns, ability to focus, number and shape recognition, eye hand coordination, visual perception, how to win and lose gracefully. Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods,” coined the term “nature deficit disorder” to link the lack of play in today’s wired generation to the increasingly disturbing trends of childhood . . . obesity, attention disorder, and depression.


Every medium develops some skills at the expense of others. The net gives us powerful tools for finding information and leads to improved visual spatial skills at the risk of losing the ability for sustained problem solving, in depth thinking and calm linear thought. Are we losing the skills of interpersonal communication including reading facial and body language?  Be role models in turning off the technology and LIVING IN THE MOMENT!

 Arlene R. DeVries


Arlene DeVries, a private consultant in gifted education, is a Past President of SENG and a SENG Parent Group facilitator. She is co-author of Gifted Parent Groups: the SENG Model, and A Parents’ Guide to Gifted Children from Great Potential Press.



Read all the posts from our National Parenting Gifted Children Week series:


See You in September . . . - Dr. Joanne Foster

A Parent’s View From the Psychiatrist’s Couch - Suki Wessling

ABCs of Being Smart . . . F Is for Fit and Flexibility - Dr. Joanne Foster

On Being the Parent of a 2e Child – Suki Wessling

Misdiagnosis: An Idea Whose Time Has Come – Dr. Marianne Kuzujanakis

The Difficult Question of Gender Identity – Suki Wessling

Understanding Twice-Exceptional Children - Dr. Carol Strip Whitney and Gretchen Hirsch

The Pressures Bright Children Feel, and Why They May Underachieve - Dr. Sylvia Rimm

Exalting Our Children: The Value & Impact of Praise on School Achievement - Dr. Joy Davis

How Other Parents Add to the Challenge of Raising Gifted Kids - Suki Wessling

The Role of Parents In Identifying Gifted Children - Suki Wessling

Spanking: An Ineffective Punishment With a Hidden Cost - Dr. James T. Webb



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