I was just profiled in the Family Savvy, a great new website in Los Angeles created by the woman who started Kids off the Couch. Hope you can check it out!
Relevant and interesting research about media, parenting, education and kids
Almost every day I read some article about how digital media is changing the brain of our children, usually with a negative connotation. Often these articles refer to “studies” that describe what new digital technologies are doing to our children’s brain. No less than the executive editor of the NY Times weighed in, referring to plenty of credible digital Cassandras who have explored what media is doing to our brain. And it is true, the likelihood is high that digital media are changing the brains of everyone who uses them, as the ONLY scientific study, by Gary Small and his colleagues, looking at the brain while participants used media showed. However, given the expense of completing a true study using brain scanners, the sample size was very small, and moreover the participants were all over 50. So we are still in VERY EARLY stages in understanding how this all affects children who use this technology from very early ages.
But one very important thing to realize is that OUR BRAINS ARE CHANGING ALL OF THE TIME. Way back in the first half of the 20th century, a scientist named Hebb developed what is now known as the Hebbian principle — “Cells that fire together, wire together.” This basically means that when synapses fire between different neurons over and over again, they form stronger and more persistent connections. These connections are the ones that last, while those that don’t continue to fire together, tend to be pruned away. More recently, science has shown that the brain constantly learns and creates new connections, a process called plasticity. The brain continues to do this throughout adulthood, so EVERY new experience changes the brain. Interestingly enough, the Gary Small study was demonstrating this concept, that the brain changes even over 50!
If you think about it, technology has been changing our brains for a very long time. Consider the definition of technology: Technology is the making, usage and knowledge of tools, techniques, crafts, systems or methods of organization in order to solve a problem or serve some purpose (Wikipedia, 2011). So if you want to read about one of the very first technologies from millions of years ago, see my other post: Technology the New Pointed Stick?
It is true that digital technology is growing rapidly and perhaps the brain is adapting and changing much more quickly than it did when technology changed more slowly. But the bottom line is the brain changes all the time. It’s not some entirely new idea that technology is rewiring us, it’s been doing that for a very, very long time.
Authors writing about the Internet and children have described several different parenting approaches. Some parents choose to severely limit their children’s access to media to a few hours a week, while others do not place time or content restrictions (Goodstein, 2007). Certain parents determine digital tools have educational value and encourage their children to learn as much as possible; others worry about the dangers their children face, from online strangers to access to inappropriate content to online harassment. While controlling a child’s access to digital media can limit their exposure when they are younger, it becomes more difficult as children start to use media outside the home and are exposed to the different rules at their friend’s homes (Ito et al., 2009).
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