Ask Dr. Leigh: Have Children Changed Over the Years?

“You have been practicing child psychology for over 26 years. What changes in the children have you seen over these years?” mother of a five-year old son and a 10 year-old daughter.

What a wonderful reflective question. It caused me to go back over the years and remember the children who have graced my playroom. Thousands of children needed help negotiating a world that can sometimes be overwhelming, harsh, and at times, abusive. They have come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities and they continue to amaze me with their courage and honesty.

Some things remain the same. Children yearn for closeness and comfort; safety and non-conditional acceptance. And they love to play! They clamor for an opportunity to get down on the floor and have an adult engage in the fantasy.

But some things are different.  Now that I  have had time to look back over the years, I am astonished at how much has actually changed. To begin, for the past ten years children’s interest in books has declined. Back in the 1980’s I was regularly reading therapeutic books to children. Now, it is a struggle to get them to look at a book. I know that they are familiar with reading since most of my preschoolers’ parents read them favorite books nightly. But I wonder if  the prolific spread of technological gadgets that are forever flashing their intentions to easily distracted eyes, have permanently diverted our children’s attentions to other more enticing stimuli.

I have also noticed that children do not seem as creative and self-motivated as they once appeared. They need more stimulation and guidance. While my playroom is not as stocked as Toys r Us, I certainly provide children with plenty of toys to pique imaginative play. But now, they get bored easily as their attention spans have shrunk to twitters, tweets, and flash-bites that take only a millisecond to pop up on a screen.  Again, I turn to the spread of technology and its availability to very young children as a reason for children having more difficulty with imagination.

My nineteen-month old grandson, who could babble a few words and was still wobbling on  his feet, grabbed my daughter’s cell phone and asked for an “ap.” I watched in amazement as this child flicked his finger over the screen with the precision of a surgeon, as dozens of birds flew in the air only to be pummeled down by the push of his stubby little finger. His proficiency with the applications on his mother’s phone far surpassed what I would have expected for his cognitive stage of development.

Children are exposed to stimuli that we could have only dreamed of twenty years ago. Their senses have adapted to visual and auditory stimuli that has never before reached this intensity.  They watch videos with colors so vivid and sounds so immediately punctuated and precise that all else pales in comparison. This is enhancing regions of the brain, stimulating its growth and potential. However, I wonder at what cost. Are creativity, self-initiative, and patience dimming in the harsh light of immediate gratification?

Lastly, I have seen an increase in children who fall somewhere on the “spectrum.”  Whether it be children who cant tolerate the seams on their jeans, or those who have significant problems regulating their behavior, their numbers are increasing. One could argue that this is because we are more aware of these problems. My professional experience does not support this. And therefore, I often wonder if the increase in these neurological dysregulations may be partly due to environmental factors.

Thank  you for this thought-provoking question! I look forward to more. Dr. Leigh


One Response

  1. Jessica Kosares says:

    I found this article to be very timely and interesting. As a mother of two preschoolers, I often struggle with how much “screen time” (TV, smart phones, computer, hand-held devices) I should allow my children. Often, I give my children my iphone or Nook when I am in public and need them to be self-entertained. In my gut, I never feel good about this quick fix, but am lulled into complacency when I notice other parents doing the same thing. This article really helped me question that practice. Instead of shoving technology in front of their little faces, why not just make them wait patiently, or entertain themselves with their imaginations, until I can give them my full attention? This article made me question my use of technology in parenting. Sure, I may be able to have an uninterrupted conversation with another adult, but at what cost? At the cost of the imaginations and patience of my children? Thanks, Dr. Baker. Please keep these articles coming.

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