Tech Neglect – Precoccupation with technology results in injury and brain damage to children

A recent study by Dr. Bruce Perry with Child Trauma Academy in Texas revealed that children who are neglected by their parents have significantly smaller brains, with long term effects of increased violence, addictions, and unemployment.The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention reports child injury rates are up 12%, and cite parent preoccupation with technology as a causal factor. While parental neglect is nothing new to society, overuse of technology is. As technology draws parents away from the needs of their children, these neglected children are more prone to injuries and even fatalaties. In the absence of a primary attachment figure, neglected children form unhealthy attachments to devices. Socially acceptable and alluring, parent overuse of technology is resulting in escalating and widespread neglect, causing injury and irreversible brain damage in children. This article will profile initiatives for health professionals regarding identification and treatment of Tech Neglect.

As a paediatric occupational therapist, I visit children in home, daycare/preschool and school settings. As a manner of protocol prior to the first visit, I tell parents that they are both required to be available to participate in therapy sessions. I also tell them that I have a “no tech” policy based on the law of “partial attention” (multitasking is a myth). Half of my potential clients don’t call back. Even with these warnings, my first session usually requires anywhere from 10-20 minutes prying devices away from not only child, but also parents, in order to proceed with therapy. We designate a safe place to stow devices, unplug the phone, and proceed. It’s the only way to achieve effective therapy sessions.

Many therapists might not consider the act of wrestling a device away from a parent and/or child to be in their professional domain. When one considers the damage inflicted on the child from parental neglect when using devices, the implications of employing “best practice” procedures of removing devices becomes imperative. Parents deserve accurate, research referenced information fromhealth professionals regarding the impact of technology on their developing child. Research shows technology overuse in children causes developmental delay, obesity, sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, aggression, adhd, dysregulation, and learning disorders (see Zone’in Fact Sheet www.zonein.ca). Above noted research shows neglect associated with technology overuse in adults causes injury and permanent brain damage. Parents have a right to this information, and they also have a right to know that the reason the health professional was referred to their child could be related to family technology overuse.

Along with providing research referenced information to the parents regarding the impact of technology on their child, I also perform a technology usage screen on the first visit (see www.zonein.ca for free Tech Screen download). Technology screening should be manditory for all of our clients and families, and will help to determine if in fact technology overuse is a causal factor in the child’s observed disorder or behaviour. As children’s technology usage patterns follow that of the parents, if the child has an overuse pattern, so obviously do the parents. This technology screening procedure is a combination of information gathering and giving, intersperced with compassion and empathy. Knowledge regarding tehnology addiction is imperative now for all therapists, as is the understanding that technology overuse is not a problem in and of itself, but rather a symptom of something deeper.

Underlying many addictions is a failure of the primary attachment between parent and child, as well as a fear of intimacy and human connecton. Generally there is one spouse in the parental partnership that has a more significant technology overuse problem, which consequently makes the treatment of this condition very complex. Involving counsellors experienced in addiction therapy is imperative, in order to help families get back on a healthy track. As pediatric occupational therapists we can use our expertice in exploring alternative activities to technology, and assist families in managing balance between activity and technology through use of schedules and action plans.

Tech Neglect is rampant in our society. To continue to ignore this problem, and participate in the over diagnosis and overmedication of child disorders and behaviours related to technology overuse, is unprofessional, unethical, definitely not “best practice”. As professionals, we need to get Tech Neglect out of the closet, and start unravelling and addressing this problem, before it’s too late.

Cris Rowan is a pediatric occupational therapist passionate about changing the ways in which children use technology. Cris provides workshops/webinars, products, training and consultation services to professionals and parents. You can read more about Cris at www.zonein.ca.

8 Responses to “Tech Neglect – Precoccupation with technology results in injury and brain damage to children”

  1. Dave
    February 7, 2013 at 4:23 am #

    Hey Cris, I find your article very interesting and relevant considering I’m writing a thesis on the effects of technology on the parent child relationship. The first time I read this article, I interpreted it as Bruce Perry had completed research linking tech neglect with reduced brain volume, but after reading it again, it seems that you are drawing a link between the two, but no formal research has been done at this point.

    Am I reading this correctly? If not, I would love a citation to the article for my research. Thank you!

    • Cris Rowan
      February 7, 2013 at 9:22 am #

      Hi Dave,

      Bruce Perry cites parental neglect as a causal factor for reduced brain volume (http://www.lfcc.on.ca/mccain/perry.pdf). Parents who overuse or have addictions to technology neglect their children, and consequently are negatively impacting their children’s developing brains. A secondary factor at play here, is in the absense of the tech addicted parental love, affection and supervision, children as a default, are creating unhealthy attachments to devices. Research is showing technology overuse by children is significantly altering brain development by pruning tracks to frontal cortex (G Small 2008, D Christakis 2012). Our tech crazed culture is causing two separate, profound changes to the developing brain…parental neglect + consequent technology overuse in children, both of which will contribute to reduced brain volume. Regardless of why the neglect, neglect is neglect.

      Best of luck on your research!

      Cris Rowan

  2. Monica Nahwegahbow, M.S., CCC-SLP (R)
    November 23, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    This is a terrrific article. Our kids need real human connection to develop the skills they need to survive and to have satisfying relationships. I have thought about this often and hypothesized that this is what was happening. They are so drawn to this electronic modality it is quite alarming. Thank you for this most timely and informative article.

    • Cris Rowan
      January 11, 2013 at 2:24 am #

      You are so very welcome kindered soul!

  3. Shelley Rattink
    November 19, 2012 at 11:35 pm #

    Hi Cris,

    Thanks for this. On our child development team we’ve been saying that texting is the new form of child neglect for about the last two years. Please keep us updated with the latest research. I use your information with our families frequently.

    • Cris Rowan
      January 11, 2013 at 2:16 am #

      Will do! Did you know that child injuries have risen significantly in the last 5 years attributed to parents texting? Try telling your families my “One Rule”. No tech by all family members for one hour a day (dinner), one day per week (Sat) and one week per year (family holiday). Restricting tech in the car, and an hour before bed, also builds family relationships and keeps everyone safe!

  4. stuart brown md
    November 17, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    I have been enjoying and lauding your outpourings. I will be presenting keynote at Whistler to the BC parks and rec societyon May 1, 2013. Perhaps a meeting to coordinate some of our common ground re deprivational and other play related issues? I am the founder and president of the National Institute for Play, etc.

    Cordially,

    Stuart

    • Cris Rowan
      January 11, 2013 at 2:18 am #

      Love to. Can you email me info@zonein.ca? Love to hear your thoughts on my Creating Sustainable Futures Program!

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