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What effect is technology having on children's lives?

On Cross Country Checkup:
As the summer winds down, it's time for students and parents start to think about heading back to school, and the shopping that goes with it. But, increasingly, pencils and books are giving way to laptops and smartphones, not to mention the game systems, social media and gadgets that young people can't seem to live without.
Can technology help build good citizens -- or are kids so plugged in, they are unplugging from the real world around them?
Join guest host David Gray.

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If you're tuning in right now from your car, or your home, even the cabin or the cottage, and you have kids, there is a very good chance that they're keeping themselves entertained.

While your attention is diverted to the age-old miracle of radio, they are likely tuned in to a higher technology.

Maybe they're texting friends, or grazing Youtube, Skyping with a cousin, or battling aliens online. Some could be reading a tablet, listening to an iPod or drawing on Photoshop, uploading pictures or downloading music.

Like it or not, technology is intertwined with a child's life these days.

A third of children under age three are already using computers. By age five, more kids know how to use a smartphone app than know how to tie their shoes. More can use a web browser than swim without help; more can navigate a computer game than ride a bike.

By age 11, they use blogs and social networking sites at least two or three times a week. And teenagers? One was quoted recently as saying she'd rather give up, like, a kidney, than her smartphone.

Critics argue technology is fundamentally changing what it means to be a parent -- and what it means to be a kid -- as children are growing up in an environment increasingly unrecognizable to their parents' experience.

So as across the country millions of kids prepare to go back to school, a lot of them pressing their parents for the latest smartphone or tablet device or laptop, it seems a good time to ask the question. What effect is technology having on children's lives?

I'm David Gray ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 159 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.


  • Jenny Williams
    Toronto high school student and a student trustee on the Toronto District School Board Student SuperCouncil

  • Dean Shareski
    Digital learning consultant at Prairie South School Division, Saskatchewan

  • Cris Rowan
    Pediatric occupational therapist, Sechelt, B.C.

  • Lori Evans
    Clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the New York University Child Study Center

Links and Articles





    Kids' growing knowledge of modern technology enables them to show their parents how to use modern technology.

    David Lekx
    Montréal, Quebec


    These willing victims of corporate manipulation, helpless without their prosthetic brains and inert while they text mindless drivel and stuff their faces with rubbish, will become so mentally and physically unfit that their parents had better stay fit in order to push their obese and A.D.D. offspring around in their wheelchairs.

    Hilary Knight
    Victoria, British Columbia


    In my opinion, technology is making kids impatient and perpetual stimulus seekers.

    Stephen Desjardins
    Quebec City, Quebec


    It was with a considerable bit of schadenfreude that I listened to a show decrying the potentially negative effects of technology on children experiencing technical difficulties with the first two callers. Perhaps Cross Country Checkup should employ some children?

    Kent Crozier
    Atikokan, Ontario


    Everyone talks about the social implications, what about radio frequency radiation emitted by cell phones? The impact of RF radiation on children is yet to be evaluated.

    Laurie Helmer
    Whitby, Ontario


    A very important aspect of this burgeoning communication technology that needs to be addressed is whether the educational system can be made to, if not embrace, at least accept and accommodate the transition in a manner that puts the needs of the students first. 

    In any other market the consumer is the driving force behind that market's innovative approaches in attempting to meet the consumer's wants and needs. But as we have seen time and time again it is the needs and wants of employers, teachers and bureaucrats that drive our eduational facilities. Time and time again the student has been left behind as a passive participant of the development of those facilities. 

    In fact, all institutions and their resulting bureaucracies have consistently proven themselves not just resistent to change but, at times, demonstratively opposed. But imagine a generation or two that had been instilled with effective use of all these communication resources and, thereby, is empowered by having the world's knowledge at their fingertips.

    William Clegg
    Gabriola Island, British Columbia


    Smartphone use is analogous to tobacco addiction behaviourally, psychologically, medically and financially. Compare smartphone use and smoking and you'll realize they're virtually identical.

    Brian Richmond
    Toronto, Ontario


    As a digital immigrant, I have tried very hard to keep up with the changing technology and to integrate it into the classroom for my students. There have been some successes. Like my Grade 9 student who wrote a poem on his phone (at home, like it was homework) and he was justifiably proud of it.

    Colleen Heffernan
    Athabasca, Alberta

    Hi David,

    I'm listening to your show with interest. I'm also seeing another angle to this discussion. I have been working with children in schools for years, but most of this time I've been living in rural and isolated Northern towns. In these places I haven't had access to cell phones, and only in recent years to high speed Internet. However I've recently moved to Whitehorse, Yukon, which perhaps by southern views is a small town. However, what I've noticed since moving here is how much technology is part of everyday lives.

    What worries me more than seeing young school aged people absorbed in their own technological devices is seeing young parents so engrossed in their iPhones, iPods, smartphones, Blackberries etc. that they are neglecting their parenting duties. I recently saw a child around three years old get out of one side of a car in a busy supermarket parking lot, while his mom got out the other side holding some device and so engrossed in the conversation that she didn't even notice her child walk out amongst the cars heading on his own towards the entrance. It was only by sheer luck that that child wasn't run over, and the parent took at least a couple of minutes to clue into the situation.

    I've seen many parents come into the school to pick up or drop off their their young child and not make any eye contact with that child due to 'other business' happening on a device.
    What are the current generation of babies getting from their parents in the way of bonding when they are rarely giving fully of their attention to their child?

    As the parent of three boys aged 20, 17 and 14 I feel lucky to have been able to raise them in their early years, totally free of much of this technology. I think we gave our kids a good basis on what is important in life. They are able to balance computer time with many other activities. I do see the great advantage of things like Skype and cell phones when I am able to talk and see our 20 year old in Perth, Australia from Whitehorse, Yukon. Our 17 and 14 year olds do not have cell phones. Neither do my husband or I. I just don't think it's necessary to constantly be in touch with them. We make a plan and stick to it, and although it's harder to find a public phone (one of my gripes) these days, they can always go in search of one and find us when necessary.

    The most important thing with technology I think is keeping it's use in perspective with many other things. It's great at times, but there are lots of other things to do in life as well.
    Thanks for the great topic.

    Stephanie Parker
    Whitehorse, Yukon


    Hi there!

    I am a high school teacher. I am also a busy parent. I don't think that there are many teachers opposed or threatened by technology in the classroom. It is that most of us do not have the time to learn how to use it fast enough. At the end of the day, teachers have a life outside the classroom too.

    Ronda Franco
    Pickering, Ontario


    I'm a teacher who uses relatively new technologies every day, but most comments so far are missing a very important point. McLuhan said the medium is the message, and these media encourage shallowness and superficiality. I've taught at the same school for 20 years, and there is no question for me that my students of 10 or 15 years ago were better able to think deeply than the students I teach now. This has very nasty implications for democracy and civil society.

    Charles Kroeker
    Winnipeg, Manitoba


    My 19-year-old and I drove back to the city together. On the way we did something we missed doing: singing together. However, we couldn't recall the lyrics. Lickity split, she called up the lyrics on her phone and we sang happily all the way and especially completed an important connection we longed for.

    Lianne Snow
    Oshawa, Ontario


    I've just been driving home with my 15-year-old son. He noted your show today was not about "kids and technology." It's a show about adults, talking about kids and technology. The youngest person was 24, and she proudly didn't have a cell phone.

    There is no empirical evidence that our kids have any more or less conflict or issues than previous generations. Is technology just our time's excuse for those kids, like evil rock and roll?

    There is no epidemiological evidence radio frequencies at low levels affect humans. Several of the people you've had on today who talk about "research" usually talk about their biases, and their favorite Internet sites.

    Yes, the next generation are different than us. As we were. Yes, there are bad kids and hurt kids in that mix, and we need to help them. And the kids are, on bulk, ok. Get over it.

    Gary Bunio


    Although smartphones and technology have their place in society, it seems like children are being forced to focus on learning how to type, rather than discovering nature and learning how to interact and co-operate with other children.

    Jennifer Broadbridge
    St. John's, Newfoundland


    When I was a kid, I read a lot in the summer as well as having family and friend time, travelling, hiking, canoeing, playing touch football, doing household chores and working at summer jobs. If I were a kid today, I would not use paper books to read but curl up with a tablet instead where possible, because it enhances the reading experience.  This should not be rationed more than reading generally.

    David Laughton
    Edmonton, Alberta


    I am an employer and so interview young people from time to time for jobs. My observation is that many of the candidates are unfamiliar with basic business communication and often, even once employed, don't have a sense of what is or isn't appropriate. I have had to replace computers infected by viruses from sites that were never part of the workday program. I have had cell phones go off in company meetings. Even if the call has not been answered it is disturbing to see how impatient the recipient becomes, losing focus on the 'in the moment' business priorities. Generalizations are always difficult, but my team members over 30 usually have a more balanced relationship with their technological worlds. 

    Toronto, Ontario

    My greatest concern is not how children are utilizing technology but rather how parents are consumed with their wireless devices. I've noticed a trend in parents tuning out their children while at the park in favour of texting. This saddens me as we only have so little time with our children why would we waste our time on frivolous conversation? Let's set a good example on how to use technology and spend quality time with our children while they still want our company.

    Kamloops, British Columbia

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