iPad can be iBad
Everything in life involves balance, weighting pros and cons, risks and benefits, good and bad. There is nothing that is an unalloyed good. That brings me to the topic at hand – iPad, iPods, iPhone and any other iThings. No one can dispute that these hand-helds have brought rapid changes to our world. Slowly years have been accumulating on the post-iPad side of the demarcation between “What is an iPad?” and “What is the newest version of the iPad?” We are just now getting enough perspective to see some more subtle changes that have been taken place, and they are not all good.
What caught my attention was an article recently in UK’s Daily Mail, titled “iPads stop a child’s muscles and bones from developing properly.” According to the article, research suggests that too much use of these and other touch-screen gadgets is adversely affecting children’s muscles and bone development. That can’t be good. It all boils down to the amount of limb and full body movement children make when using computer devices as opposed to conventional toys. The use of the former for long periods of time reduces overall movement, whereas conventional toys by their very nature necessitate lots of movement of limbs, hands and body. Movement is far better. The research did note that watching TV also is basically sedentary and issues the same warnings. However TV watching is not as engaging, I should say mesmerizing, as the computer devices with their interactive formats.
When adults sit for long periods of time and watch TV, use their computers or hand-held devises, their health problems are mainly weight gain and loss of muscle tone and reduced cardiac stamina. For growing children, especially those under 5 years old, the damage is far worse. This is the time when many organ systems are developing, including bones, nerves and muscles. What happens during this critical development time will affect their body for the rest of their life. Deficiencies now cannot be recovered later. This is exactly what the research cited in the Daily Mail article was describing. Keep in mind, the research is only looking at purely physical changes from overuse of iPads, not the well-described effects on cognitive and intellectual development. That huge topic is for another time.
Following up on the initial article I found several more investigating the overall decline in strength in the millennial generation. PJMedia.com, an online newspaper had an article to point. Entitled “Study: Men’s strength in Severe Decline. Here’s what Parents Need to Know” (Susan L.M. Goldberg from Aug 13, 2016). The article cites a study from the Journal of Hand Therapy about the surprising loss of grip strength in today’s healthy millennials, aged 20 – 34 compared to those of the same age in the 1980s. The San Francisco Chronicle also takes up the news in its article, “Study finds men are weaker than they were 30 years ago.” For example, the original research showed that in the 1980s the average man could hand squeeze 120 pounds whereas now the average is 95 pounds. Is this what our 3 year old iPad master surfer has to look forward to – marked diminishment in upper body and hand strength? Whereas these researchers did not credit iPad use for their startling findings, they did offer the observation that it might be because so few men work in manual jobs to sustain that kind of strength. Be that as it may, it certainly can’t be a help that boys now grow up using toys that are linked to early reduction in bone and muscle development. Never mind that adult males no longer perform manual tasks – soon they might not even be able to even if they wanted.
Some may wonder why the fuss. We live in a service economy more than one requiring hard manual labor. While true, this issue is more far-reaching than just grip strength. According to the researchers cited in Goldberg’s article “weaker hand strength has been linked to a variety of health conditions including heart disease, stroke and arthritis.” An article in the Telegraph, a UK newspaper, entitled “Texting for long periods could lower life expectancy” (by Sophie Curtis March 25, 2014) warns of the increased health risks associated with chronic use of mobile devices. Have you ever considered we may be texting ourselves all the way to the undertaker? These habits start young.
Unlike many social and medical problems, this one has an easy solution. Take the iPad, iPhone and iWhatever out of your child’s hand and put him or her in the midst of some Legos, building blocks, tonka trucks, doll house or other activity based toys. The Goldberg article goes one step further, “Want to raise a strong boy? Pull your phone out of his hands, shelve the tablet for a day, turn off the TV and get him into the garage. Don’t have a lot of tools of your own? Head over to Home Depot for a parent-child class on the weekend….Whether it’s wood or metal, houses or furniture, cars or crafts, there are tons of activities to be done using good old fashioned ingenuity and manual labor.” I should add that there are tons of FUN activities to be done making full use of arms, hands, legs and the whole body. The other bonus is that while your child is doing these things, you get the health benefits of doing them too.
© 2016 Linda Johnston, MD