The Four Negative Sides of Technology

We live in a high tech world—with high tech classrooms. We embrace the benefits of using iPads during class, integrating tweets during presentations, and teaching students while using smart TVs. We know the many benefits of incorporating technology while teaching, such as adding diversity to lessons, increasing student interaction, and to bringing new perspectives and knowledge to the class.

But there can be a negative side resulting from inappropriate or overuse of technology, and that negative side can have serious and long-term consequences. To make the best out of tools of technology, teachers and parents must also recognize their downsides and how to avoid them.

Image from Flickr via Yvette Keohuloa

Image from Flickr via Yvette Keohuloa

Negative #1: Technology Changes the Way Children Think

Using technology can change a child’s brain. An article in Psychology Today says that the use of technology can alter the actual wiring of the brain. More than a third of children under the age of two use mobile media. That number only increases as children age, with 95% of teens 12-17 spending time online. The time spent with technology doesn’t just give kids newfangled ways of doing things, it changes the way their brains work. For example, the article says that while video games may condition the brain to pay attention to multiple stimuli, they can lead to distraction and decreased memory. Children who always use search engines may become very good at finding information—but not very good at remembering it. In addition, the article said, children who use too much technology may not have enough opportunities to use their imagination or to read and think deeply about the material.

Negative #2: Technology Changes the Way Children Feel

Using technology can affect a child’s ability to empathize. A study on two groups of sixth graders found that kids who had no access to electronic devices for five days were better at picking up on emotions and nonverbal cues of photos of faces than the group that used their devices during that time. The increased face-to-face interaction that the test group had made students more sensitive to nuances in expression.

Overuse of technology can also affect a child’s own mood.  A report from the United Kingdom revealed that kids who use computer games and their home Internet for more than four hours do not have the same sense of wellbeing as those who used that technology for less than an hour.  One expert explained that with less physical contact, children might have difficulty developing social skills and emotional reactions.

Negative #3: Technology Can Put Privacy and Safety at Risk

Improper use of technology can expose a child to numerous risks. Children who use technology may unwittingly share information that can put them in danger.  In 82% of online sex crimes against children, the sex offenders used social networking sites to get information about the victim’s preferences. And the anonymity of technology can also make it easier for people to bully others online. A quarter of teenagers say they have been bullied either by text or on the Internet. Sexting is another high-risk behavior of concern, with 24% of teenagers aged 14 -17 have participated in some sort of nude sexting.

Negative #4: More Use of Technology with Less Physical Activity Leads to Obesity

Childhood obesity is on the rise, and technology may be to blame.  Pediatricians also say that severe obesity is increasing among young people. Although one traditional focus is on the amount and type of foods kids eat, one study says that obesity is on the rise, not just because of food, but because as we use more technology, we exercise less. With technology that includes cars, television, computers and mobile devices, the amount of time we spend sedentary increased and our time in physical activity dropped.

Addressing the Negatives of Technology

We’re certainly not advocating cutting out all technology, but, as with most things, moderation is best. Teachers and parents who want their students and children to experience the benefits of technology—without the negatives—should consider these ideas.

  1. Monitor the use of technology. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, or both, make sure you know how your kids are using technology.  Many classroom computers have restrictions on which sites can be used. If yours doesn’t, consider adding them or checking the search history to know what your students are doing. For parents, some mobile phone plans offer family-friendly options that let parents restrict calls or texts during parent-established times.
  2. Teach responsible usage. We don’t suggest ignoring what technology can offer. Instead, talk with students about establishing their Internet footprint, and the long-range consequences of putting inappropriate information into cyberspace.  Encourage students to discuss tricky situations they may encounter online and help them work to a positive resolution.
  3. Be familiar with technology. Keep up with what those young people are into. Vine, Snapchat, or whatever the current online trend is, stay current so you can recognize and head off any problems early on.
  4. Use classroom technology intentionally. It’s easy to allow technology (i.e. videos, movies) to take precedence in a lesson. Be sure to use these tools to augment—not substitute for—your teaching.
  5. Offer alternatives to technology. Give students an assignment that requires reading a hard copy of a material. Task them with interviewing each other—in person—instead of texting questions. Conduct class outside where you can sit and discuss a topic without the usual distractions.

In Short

Technology makes our lives easier. Today’s students have tremendous opportunities to learn and to connect by using it. But with each advantage comes a potential cost. When we understand those costs and can minimize them, we can keep the use of technology positive.

Editor’s note: This piece was originally written by Alice Martin and ran on May 30, 2013. A lot has changed since then, so we’ve had author Pamela DeLoatch update this piece with the latest techniques and innovations.

6 Comments

  1. Kelly

    May 2, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Hi Pamela,

    I really enjoyed reading your article and agree with many of the points you’ve made. As a COETAIL student, I’ve been doing some reading and writing about the benefits of online technology and how it can support students in their learning. I’ve always personally had some negative thoughts about how technology can affect children and their learning, but never thought to share them. While reading your article, it made me think of my first grade students and how a few of them are directly linked to your points.

    I really do think technology can change how a child thinks and feels. The students I know who play video games all evening and on weekends are clearly less social and seem to not respond appropriately in social situations. They also seem very distracted and are constantly talking about something that happened in a video game as if it were a real life scenario. My students who play online/video games the least amount are also my most active and energetic kids. They love to run and play outside during recess and enjoy playing sports or active games. The other students tend to get tired quickly and would rather just sit and watch others run or play.

    I love the suggestions you have given on how we, as teachers or parents, can help support students in their use of technology, without all the negative side effects. The problem I’m facing now is how to encourage parents to see these negative issues as a real concern. I’ve told many of my parents to limit their child’s online gaming and activities to a minimal, or to monitor their online activity. However, a few have refused or have not bothered to make the necessary changes. So how do I help these kids? Any ideas?

    • tshimmologo

      May 5, 2015 at 12:37 pm

      Hi Pamela

      As a teen I see your points and understand them. I think it’s important that most people out there realise the negative effects of technology. From what I read today, I’ve learnt to reduce the time I spend on the Internet and focus on far more important things. Thanks

    • Maryam

      May 10, 2015 at 4:01 am

      Hi Kelly,
      What you have mentioned is totally true and i fear that the coming generations will become worse.

      As parents or teachers, I believe we should educate children about the negative effects of technology.

      I think maybe if you inform your students about the negative effects of being on technology, then they might get afraid of playing too much. For example, maybe you should tell them that if they play on technology too much, then they may have poor eye sight in the future or they wouldn’t have the opportunity to become the profession they want to be (like a doctor or teacher as many kids would say).

      Not sure if this was helpful, but wish you the best :)

      Maryam

      • Ben

        May 11, 2015 at 6:06 am

        Heads up: I’m not a native British English speaker as I live in the Netherlands, I might have terrible grammar sometimes or end up spelling it as Americans would.

        Hi Maryam,

        I’m 19 and trying to become a decent programmer. I have been in contact with computers since I was 10-11, I think. I started to play games and got hooked, or rather, I wasn’t interested in anything else, except reading fantasy books; That’s what I’d like to say/believe anyway.

        Short explanation of the school system in the Netherlands:
        Age 4-12, preliminary school.
        Age 12-(16-18): High school, this is divided into three main categories: VMBO(easy), HAVO(medium), VWO(hard).
        After that, depending on the difficulty you have completed, you have to follow another study, MBO/HBO/WO, and then you can work or continue studying.

        At preliminary school I excelled at everything theoretical, I wasn’t good at speaking in front of class. I aced every test, except some topography I didn’t bother to learn. Apparently I was given the opportunity to learn tougher matter, but rejected it(Don’t remember that, my mother told me).

        At the age of 12/13 I went to high school, VWO, and suddenly I didn’t ace everything, but I didn’t bother to learn properly and failed the 4th year(out of 6). It didn’t flick a switch and I failed again, thus I was expelled.

        I had the option to go to HAVO, or do an MBO study. Someone at school recommended me to do MBO. I picked a programming class, with the idea to make games or something. I didn’t know what else I would like to do and up to this day I wouldn’t know what to do besides this study.

        In the mean time a friend told me to watch a certain anime, also got me ‘addicted’, again.

        What I have come up with is that I want to either develop/program educational games, or teach programming on schools.
        As a developer/programmer: Games you can actually learn something from. Either educational or otherwise. I hope I can do this with the path I’m following now.
        As a teacher: At high schools teaching 12-15 year olds the impact of programs on society and what programming skills can possibly do outside this business.
        Either way, I will have to stay up-to-date with programming progress.

        I should really decrease the time I spend gaming and watching anime, instead I should read a book again, haven’t read in years. I’m also trying to get a group together to do Pathfinder sessions with, tabletop roleplaying-games. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tabletop_role-playing_game

        Thank you for reading until the end,

        Ben.

        TL;DR -> Don’t spend too much time with something you know doesn’t benefit you somehow in the long run.

  2. David Mark

    May 11, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    As a minister and college professor of English, it is both ironic and significant that I am reading and commenting on this article online. I am an onsite college teacher– that is, an in-your-face teacher, who uses body language, gestures, voice, lecture, and discussion to get a point across. I engage students in real time (I can remember when that was the “only” form of time we had!) to make my point and transmit information.
    There will come a time when children and teens will be unable to distinguish between real reality and virtual reality. That will not be a good day.
    We need more human encounters. We already have enough encounters between human beings and machines. When our children meet one another, or gain their knowledge, mainly via machines, they lose another bit of their humanity.

  3. Sasha

    May 14, 2015 at 8:05 am

    Hi Pamela,
    i get what you are saying about technology being bad and all sometimes i forget things when i have been on my phone for too long but seriously you are telling us that being on our phones/technology is bad. You wrote a giant article about why its bad people who don’t read fast could take forever on this which you say is bad. otherwise i totally get your reasoning and i agree with you.
    Thanks,
    Sasha

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