Safeguarding Against Technology Overuse

Children and technology

While technology has made our lives easier, an addiction to it can be harmful to your health.

Constant use of gadgets such as iPods, iPads and cell phones can cause problems physically, mentally or behaviorally. More patients are being diagnosed with arthritis and tendinitis in their elbows, necks and thumbs while others are experiencing hearing loss from overusing the earbuds on their MP3 players.

Cindy Simmons, a physical therapist with Bon Secours In Motion Physical Therapy, says she’s seen patients with ailments related to the overuse of smartphones and tablets.

“What is called ‘Blackberry thumb’ is really tendinitis of the thumb because people tend to use their thumbs when they are typing on their phones,” she says. “It’s really an overuse syndrome. ‘Tablet neck’ is more of a posture problem, pain people get in their neck from being in an awkward position. I see a lot of people who come in with neck strains and neck and back pain because they work at their computers a lot and they are stationary all day long.”

Overuse of technology doesn’t just affect adults. Too much screen time, especially in babies and young children, can be just as damaging. Doctors recommend that children experience no more than two hours of screen time daily, but kids today are spending an average of seven hours a day using entertainment media including televisions, computers, smartphones and video games. While baby products with built-in screens, such as bouncy chairs or the iPotty, seem appealing buying them may hurt your child in the long run. Members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers are seeing an increase in the number of infants who lack the motor skills to play with simple building blocks because of overuse of tablets and smartphones.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommends that all television and other media should be avoided in children under the age of two and emphasizes that infants and toddlers learn best from interactive play with parents, siblings and other children,”says Dr. Mark C. Downey, a pediatrician with CHKD’s Pediatric Associates of Williamsburg (Virginia).

“Under two years of age is a period of rapid brain development and excessive media use can have detrimental effects. There have been studies linking excessive media use to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, school/learning difficulties, sleeping disorders, eating disorders, particularly overeating and obesity,” Dr. Downey says.

Dr. Downey suggests that parents monitor their children’s technology usage carefully, and designate screen-free areas of the home, especially during mealtime.

“Don’t forget about encouraging books, newspapers and board games as a substitute for screen time,” he says.

Adults should also set an example by limiting their own use of technology.

“If you use your phone a lot for a long period of time during the day, take breaks and really watch your posture on a tablet or computer,” says Simmons. “Stretching may help. If you are at the computer all day, vary your tasks. Get up and do some filing or copying. You really need to move around.”