A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

Devices May Be Making Our Children Smarter, but Is There a Catch?

Print Friendly and PDF

My three-year-old daughter’s face wavers in shifting patterns of light from the mini iPad held in her hands.


As she lies on the couch, with her feet resting on my knees, I watch the small twin screens reflected in her lenses. Her bright blue irises flare with each change of scene. The obsidian darkness of her tiny pupils grows and shrinks beneath.

Behind this diorama – a juxtaposition between modern technology and ancient evolution – something remarkable is occurring.

Each sight and sound will be converted by specialized receptor cells into nerve impulses. Traveling at speeds in excess of 100 meters per second, they will reach her cerebral cortex through a complex exchange of information through nerve cell synapses.

Since birth, her brain has more than tripled in volume as it constantly builds the new neural circuits needed to process all the new stimuli she is bombarded with. In the first few years of her life, her brain has formed approximately one million new neural connections every second.

Growing up in a small Australian country town, in the late 70s and early 80s, I was exposed to relatively simple environmental factors. Our black and white television was rarely watched. Photos took a week to develop. Letters were delivered to the mailbox. Upon starting Prep, I couldn’t count beyond 10 or even spell my own first name.

FEATURED VIDEO

In comparison, my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter knows all the letters of the alphabet thanks to the ABC Kids app. She takes pictures on her iPad, can write her own name, and do basic addition and subtraction.

So, is she smarter than I was at her age?

 

 

The simple answer is, “yes,” according to University of Otago Emeritus Professor James Flynn. Flynn is a political scientist who became famous in the 80s for his landmark discovery that, from the 30s onwards, there has been substantial gains in IQ scores in many parts of the world. This improvement has continued up to the present day and has become known as the “Flynn Effect”.

“The brain is like a muscle and there is no doubt that it will respond to stimulation,” Flynn says. “To give you an illustration, in 1900 no one drove a car. In 1950 everyone drove a car. Between 1900 and 1950 the hippocampus grew in size because it’s the map reading part of the brain. Today, thanks to the automated guidance system, the size of the hippocampus is going down because we are no longer doing the relevant exercise.”

As early as 2008, researchers were discovering the beneficial effects of computer use on the brain. In a ground-breaking study scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that internet use appears to boost brain function. And, according to a Journal of Molecular Psychiatry paper, video game exposure induces structural brain plasticity and improves our performance on attention demanding and perceptual tasks.”

But as to whether these brain expansion effects leads to an improvement in complex life skills, such as problem solving and planning, remains open to debate.

“People think that any stimulation of the brain necessarily pays big dividends,” says Flynn. “But it’s not clear if there’s a transfer to more socially significant cognitive skills. The rise of IQ has limited effects when accompanied by the rise of ignorance.”

Dr. David Bickham, research scientist at Harvard University’s Centre on Media and Child Health, has spent more than 20 years exploring how media, as an environmental factor, can influence children’s physical, mental, and social development. When I spoke to him on the phone from Massachusetts, USA, it was 9 p.m. local time and his two children, aged three and five, were asleep in bed. “It’s important to differentiate between general media use – just exposure to devices like tablets – with programs that are specifically designed for education,” says Bickham. “The evidence shows pretty convincingly that it’s not so much the exposure to a device that makes the difference, but it’s what you do with it, and the content you’re exposed to.”

Even with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent reduction of recommended maximum screen time for children under the age of five to just one hour a day, Bickham, as both a researcher and parent, believes restrictions like these have become a moot point. “In a world where screen use and technology is so pervasive, time of use starts to be more difficult to measure and less important to make guidelines on,” he says. “The more pertinent question to ask ourselves is: What’s most important developmentally for the kid, and is the kid getting that? And if they are, then I don’t think some screen time is going to hurt.”

Bickham does caution, however, that parents should use media mindfully, and it should never replace important parent-child interactions which are critical for a child’s development. “I have not seen anything that would convince me that devices are giving a child something which is stimulating them in a way beyond an activity like reading with their parent,” he says. “We really are interpersonal beings and our information comes from our interactions with other people. The parent-child exchange that goes on with shared activities cannot be replicated artificially with a device.”

Regardless of the debate surrounding the potential benefits or negatives of screen time on the brain, it is indisputable that computers, tablets, and smartphones are here to stay.

According to the Internet Live Stats site there are currently more than 3.6 billion people with an Internet connection, and the Statista company estimates there are 2.3 billion smartphone users in the world today. Device detection organization DeviceAtlas reports that 87 per cent of smartphone users say they “always have their phone at their side, day and night,” and, startlingly, a joint US–Canadian study found that one in 10 people check their phone during sex.

Daniel Battaglia, 34, is founder and CEO of online business ParkingMadeEasy and a self-confessed “device addict” who epitomizes today’s tech-savvy population. He believes modern technology has definitely made him smarter. “Having a connected device provides instant access to so much human knowledge that was never easily accessible before,” he says. “It gives me the freedom to connect with people, learn new things, keep up-to-date with news, and grow my own business. And it’s all done remotely, from anywhere.”

Not everyone is so effusive. Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists president Professor Malcolm Hopwood says while there is no doubt that devices have been a wonderful aid to society, there exists a subset of people who have become overly overdependent on them. “We are seeing concerns where devices can blur the boundaries between people’s work life and their personal life,” says Hopwood. “It’s really important that people get sufficient time away from work. Personal devices can make that difficult.”

So, considering all this conflicting advice, am I going to turn out to be the mother of an internet-enhanced genius or a smartphone-addled addict? Or will such an artificial distinction soon not exist anymore?

These thoughts worry me as I stand up and touch my daughter gently on the cheek.

“It’s bedtime,” I say.

Tears and tantrums follow. As they do virtually every night. Even when I promise to read her The Gruffalo, The Gruffalo’s Child, and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.

It’s time for Plan B.

My daughter’s tears abruptly stop when she sees the envelope in my hand. It’s plastered with animal stickers and her name and address are written on the front in big pink glitter letters.

“What’s that, Mummy?”

“It’s a card,” I say. “It’s for you.”

I give her the envelope and watch as her fingernails frantically pry open the flap. She squeals in delight when she tugs out the card. It’s a cardboard cut-out of a chicken complete with yellow feathers and big black googly eyes.

“Grandma made it,” I say.

My daughter giggles and I smile. Happy that, at least for now, there are still some things that screen time just can’t beat.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

Subscribe to get inspiration and super helpful ideas to rock your #momlife. Motherhood looks amazing on you.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

As mamas, we naturally become the magic-makers for our families. We sing the songs that make the waits seem shorter, dispense the kisses that help boo-boos hurt less, carry the seemingly bottomless bags of treasures, and find ways to turn even the most hum-drum days into something memorable.

Sometimes it's on a family vacation or when exploring a new locale, but often it's in our own backyards or living rooms. Here are 12 ways to create magical moments with kids no matter where your adventures take you.


1. Keep it simple

Mary Poppins may be practically perfect in every way, but―trust us―your most magical memories don't require perfection. Spend the morning building blanket forts or break out the cookie cutters to serve their sandwich in a fun shape and you'll quickly learn that, for kids, the most magical moments are often the simplest.

2. Get on their level

Sometimes creating a memorable moment can be as easy as getting down on the floor and playing with your children. So don't be afraid to get on your hands and knees, to swing from the monkey bars, or turn watching your favorite movie into an ultimate snuggle sesh.

3. Reimagine the ordinary

As Mary says, "the cover is not the book." Teach your child to see the world beyond initial impressions by encouraging them to imagine a whole new world as you play―a world where the laundry basket can be a pirate ship or a pile of blankets can be a castle.

4. Get a little messy

Stomp in muddy puddles. Break out the finger paint. Bake a cake and don't worry about frosting drips on the counter. The messes will wait, mama. For now, let your children―and yourself―live in these moments that will all too soon become favorite memories.

5. Throw out the plan

The best-laid plans...are rarely the most exciting. And often the most magical moments happen by accident. So let go of the plan, embrace the unexpected, and remember that your child doesn't care if the day goes according to the schedule.

6. Take it outside

There's never a wrong time of year to make magic outside. Take a stroll through a spring rainstorm, catch the first winter snowflakes on your tongue, or camp out under a meteor shower this summer. Mother Nature is a natural at creating experiences you'll both remember forever.

7. Share your childhood memories

Chances are if you found it magical as a child, then your kids will too. Introduce your favorite books and movies (pro tip: Plan a double feature with an original like Mary Poppins followed with the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns!) or book a trip to your favorite family vacation spot from the past. You could even try to recreate photos from your old childhood with your kids so you can hang on to the memory forever.

8. Just add music

Even when you're doing something as humdrum as prepping dinner or tidying up the living room, a little music has a way of upping the fun factor. Tell Alexa to cue up your favorite station for a spontaneous family dance party or use your child's favorite movie soundtrack for a quick game of "Clean and Freeze" to pick up toys at the end of the day.

9. Say "yes"

Sometimes it can feel like you're constantly telling your child "no." While it's not possible to grant every request (sorry, kiddo, still can't let you drive the car!), plan a "yes" day for a little extra magic. That means every (reasonable) request gets an affirmative response for 24 hours. Trust us―they'll never forget it.

10. Let them take the lead

A day planned by your kid―can you imagine that? Instead of trying to plan what you think will lead to the best memories, put your kid in the driver's seat by letting them make the itinerary. If you have more than one child, break up the planning so one gets to pick the activity while the other chooses your lunch menu. You just might end up with a day you never expected.

11. Ask more questions

Odds are, your child might not remember every activity you plan―but they will remember the moments you made them feel special. By focusing the conversation on your little one―their likes, dislikes, goals, or even just craziest dreams―you teach them that their perspective matters and that you are their biggest fan.

12. Turn a bad day around

Not every magical moment will start from something good. But the days where things don't go to plan can often turn out to be the greatest memories, especially when you find a way to turn even a negative experience into a positive memory. So don't get discouraged if you wake up to rain clouds on your beach day or drop the eggs on the floor before breakfast―take a cue from Mary Poppins and find a way to turn the whole day a little "turtle."

Mary Poppins Returns available now on Digital & out on Blue-ray March 19! Let the magic begin in your house with a night where everything is possible—even the impossible ✨

After a pregnancy that is best described as uncomfortable, Jessica Simpson is finally done "Jess-tating" and is now a mama of three.

Baby Birdie Mae Johnson joined siblings Ace and Maxwell on Tuesday, March 19, Simpson announced via Instagram.

Simpson's third child weighed in at 10 pounds, 13 ounces.

Birdie's name is no surprise to Jessica's Instagram followers, who saw numerous references to the name in her baby shower photos and IG stories in the last few weeks.

The name Birdie isn't in the top 1000 baby names according to the Social Security Administration, but It has been seeing a resurgence in recent years, according to experts.

"Birdie feels like a sassy but sweet, down-to-earth yet unusual name," Pamela Redmond Satran of Nameberry told Town and Country back in 2017. "It's also just old enough to be right on time."

At this moment in time, Simpson and her husband, former NFL player Eric Johnson, are probably busy counting little fingers and toes , which is great news because it means Simpson's toes can finally deflate. She's had a terrible time with swollen feet during this pregnancy, and was also hospitalized multiple times due to bronchitis in her final trimester.

FEATURED VIDEO

We're so glad to see Simpson's little Birdie has finally arrived!

You might also like:

Spring is officially here and if you're looking for a way to celebrate the change in the season, why not treat the kids to some ice cream, mama?

DQ locations across the country (but not the ones in malls) are giving away free small vanilla cones today, March 20! So pack up the kids and get to a DQ near you.

And if you can't make it today, from March 21 through March 31, DQ's got a deal where small cones will be just 50 cents (but you have to download the DQ mobile app to claim that one).

Another chain, Pennsylvania-based Rita's Italian Ice is also dishing up freebies today, so if DQ's not your thing you can grab a free cup of Italian ice instead.

We're so excited that ice cream season is here and snowsuit season is behind us. Just a few short weeks and the kids will be jumping through the sprinklers.

Welcome back, spring. We've missed you!

You might also like:

The woman who basically single-handedly taught the world to embrace vulnerability and imperfection is coming to Netflix and we cannot wait to binge whatever Brené Brown's special will serve up because we'll probably be better people after watching it.

It drops on April 19 and is called Brené Brown: The Call to Courage. If it has even a fraction of the impact of her books or the viral Ted talk that made her a household name, it's going to be life and culture changing.

Announcing the special on Instagram Brown says she "cannot believe" she's about to be "breaking some boundaries over at Netflix" with the 77-minute special.

Netflix describes the special as a discussion of "what it takes to choose courage over comfort in a culture defined by scarcity, fear and uncertainty" and it sounds exactly like what we need right now.

April 19 is still pretty far away though, so if you need some of Brown's wisdom now, check out her books on Amazon or watch (or rewatch) the 2010 Ted Talk that put her—and our culture's relationship with vulnerability and shame—in the national spotlight.

The power of vulnerability | Brené Brown

FEATURED VIDEO

If Marie Kondo's Netflix show got people tidying up, Brown's Netflix special is sure to be the catalyst for some courageous choices this spring.

You might also like:

My husband and I recently had a date night that included being away from our son overnight for the first time since he was born three years ago (but don't let your heads run away with a fantasy—we literally slept because we were exhausted #thisiswhatwecallfunnow). It was a combination of a late night work event, a feeling that we had to do something just for the two of us, and simple convenience. It would have taken hours to get home from the end of a very long day when we could just check into a hotel overnight and get home early the next day.

But before that night, I fretted about what to do. How would childcare work? No one besides me or my husband has put our son to bed, and we have never not been there when he wakes up in the morning.

Enter: Grandma.

I knew if there was any chance of this being successful, the only person that could pull it off is one of my son's favorite people—his grandmother. Grammy cakes. Gramma. We rely so much on these extended support systems to give us comfort and confidence as parents and put our kids at ease. Technically, we could parent without their support, but I'm so glad we don't have to.

FEATURED VIDEO

So as we walked out the door, leaving Grandma with my son for one night, I realized how lucky we are that she gets it...

She gets it because she always comes bearing delicious snacks. And usually a small toy or crayons in her bag for just the right moment when it's needed.

She gets it because she comes with all of the warmth and love of his parents but none of the baggage. None of the first time parent jitters and all of the understanding that most kids just have simple needs: to eat, play and sleep.

She gets it because she understands what I need too. The reassurance that my baby will be safe. And cared for.

She gets it because she's been in my shoes before. Decades ago, she was a nervous new mama too and felt the same worries. She's been exactly where we are.

She gets it because she shoos us away as we nervously say goodbye, calling out cheerfully, "Have fun, I've got this." And I know that she does.

She gets it because she will get down on the floor with him to play Legos—even though sometimes it's a little difficult to get back up.

She gets it because she will fumble around with our AppleTV—so different from her remote at home—to find him just the right video on Youtube that he's looking for.

She gets it because she diligently takes notes when we go through the multi-step bedtime routine that we've elaborately concocted, passing no judgment, and promising that she'll follow along as best as she can.

She gets it because she'll break the routine and lay next to him in bed when my son gets upset, singing softly in his ear until she sees his eyelids droop heavy and finally fall asleep.

She gets it because she'll text us to let us know when he's fallen asleep because she knows we'll be wondering.

She gets it because just like our son trusts us as his mom and dad, Grandma is his safe space. My son feels at ease with her—and that relaxes me, too.

She gets it because when we come home from our "big night out" the house will be clean. Our toddler's play table that always has some sort of sticky jelly residue on it will be spotless. The dishwasher empty. (Side note: She is my hero.)

She gets it because she shows up whenever we ask. Even when it means having to rearrange her schedule. Even when it means she has to sleep in our home instead of her own.

She gets it because even though she has her own life, she makes sure to be as involved in ours as she can. But that doesn't mean she gives unsolicited advice. It means that she's there. She comes to us or lets us come to her. Whenever we need her.

She gets it because she takes care of us, too. She's there to chat with at the end of a long day. To commiserate on how hard motherhood and working and life can be, but to also gently remind me, "These are the best days."

After every time Grandma comes over, she always leaves a family that feels so content. Fulfilled by her presence. The caretaking and nourishment (mental and food-wise) and warmth that accompanies her.

We know this is a privilege. We know we're beyond lucky that she is present and wants to be involved and gets it. We know that sometimes life doesn't work out like this and sometimes Grandma lives far away or is no longer here, or just doesn't get it. So we hold on. And appreciate every moment.

As Grandma leaves, I hug her tight and tell her, "I can't thank you enough. We couldn't have done this without you." Because we can't. And we wouldn't want to.

You might also like:

Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.