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The Impact of Mobile Technology on our Children

With nearly three billion children in the world, understanding how mobile technology will impact their lives is of critical importance to educators including UAlbany's Zheng Yan.

ALBANY, N.Y. (October 10, 2017) -- Americans spend a startling amount of time on our smart phones and mobile devices. According to emarketer, U.S. adults will spend about more than four hours per day using apps or surfing the web from a mobile device in 2017. The number rises as the population segment gets younger: The 18-to-24 demographic spends significantly more time on their devices than older adults.

But what about children’s use of smart devices? And how do mobile device use affect k-12 students? These are the questions posed in a recently published special section of Child Development, edited by the Zheng Yan of Educational & Counseling Psychology and Örebro University’s Lennart Hardell.

The section shows how particularly diverse the use of mobile technology is among children and adolescents, and points to great complexity in the effects of that usage. It includes articles from national and international scholars on the complicated impact mobile technology has on infants, toddlers, children, teens and parents.

“There are nearly three billion children and adolescents in the world,” said Yan, an associate professor of educational and counseling psychology in the School of Education. "Most of them were, are, or will be various types of mobile technology users, interacting with and being influenced by mobile technology in numerous ways."

According to the International Telecommunication Union, there are about 7.4 billion mobile phone subscriptions among the world’s population, accounting for 99.7 percent of all the people on the planet. As part of the special section Yan focuses specifically on child and adolescent use of mobile phones.

“In this sense, young and adult mobile users are much more diverse than young and adult TV viewers, video gamers, PC users and online surfers,” said Yan.

Yan offers four real-life case on both the positive and negative complex impacts of the wide dispersal of mobile phones:

  • A boy in California who can monitor (along with his mother and pediatric endocrinologist) his Type 1 diabetes using a mobile app;
  • A teenage refugee in Turkey who escaped his war-torn hometown in Afghanistan with a smartphone, an old phone and two SIM cards;
  • A British girl who committed suicide after having endured extensive suffering from irritation, headaches, fatigue and other symptoms possibly due to an allergy to WiFi signals in her school; and
  • A two-year-old girl in California who was killed instantly by a car driven by a young driver who was texting while driving.

These cases are just the tip of the iceberg of the ways mobile technology can be used by children, but can also lead to unforeseen results.

The articles in this special section, Contemporary Mobile Technology and Child and Adolescent Development, examine the effects on a wide range of outcomes, including:

  • Risks of using mobile phones while driving, walking, and bicycling;
  • Risks of radiation in mobile phone use for brain development;
  • Effects of mobile technology on cognitive control and attention in contexts such as parenting and early brain development;
  • Risks of sexting /increased risky behavior through peer pressure and social media Interaction;
  • Effects of mobile technology use on sleep, mood, and mental health;
  • Potential for monitoring children’s locations/children’s attitudes towards security through GPS tracking; and
  • Increased connectivity across spaces and cultures.

Findings point to a range of outcomes including areas where mobile technology may pose potential dangers, and areas where development may be supported. An important example is the work summarized by Dr. Hardell concerning radiation and brain development. In terms of potential benefits to development, mobile technology offers new, unique ways for young children to maintain contact with family members not physically present.

“Today’s mobile technologies have become a very unique and powerful influence on child and adolescent development,” said Yan. “Its use is very personal for children and adolescents, occurs almost anywhere and anytime, and integrates telephone, television, video games, personal computers, the Internet, and many new technologies into a portable device. The evidence indicates complex impacts on young mobile technology users.”

The Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) was established in 1933 by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. The Society’s goals are to advance interdisciplinary research in child development and to encourage applications of research findings. Its membership of more than 5,700 scientists is representative of the various disciplines and professions that contribute to knowledge of child development. Child Development is SRCD’s flagship journal since 1930. It is the first time that Child Development published a special section on technologies and child development in its 87-year history. In addition to Child Development, SRCD also publishes Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, Child Development Perspectives, and the SRCD Social Policy Report.

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