What The Tech conference: What is the effect of tech on kids?

Children play video games.
Children play video games.

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Let a young person communicate online with other kids, and you’re likely to see that kid disclose more personal information, act more harshly and be more “sexualized” than in face-to-face contact with others.

That’s what Dr. Larry Rosen predicts. He’s a psychology professor at Cal State Dominguez Hills, and he was one of the experts on youth and online media at the “What The Tech” conference sponsored by the Santa Monica-UCLA Rape Treatment Center.

"Little kids that use more technology end up having more physical problems and psychological problems," said Rosen. "Teenagers who use more technology, play video games or are online more tend to have more problems also."

Problems like depression and narcissism. But Rosen’s research has also turned up positives, such as the role of social media in teaching empathy.

"Those kids who spend more time on Facebook, do more Facebook activities, learn quicker how to be more empathic," according to Rosen.

The educators, child advocates and parents at the conference also heard that video games — even the violent kind — aren’t nearly as bad for kids as many believe.

"If there’s something really bad happening to a lot of kids from these video games we should see something," said Rosen. "We should see increased school problems, increased bullying, fighting ... we’re not seeing that."

Chery Olson, co-founder of the Center for Mental Health and Media at Harvard Medical School, says her government-funded study on the effects of video game violence on middle school children came up with some reassuring results.

"If your child has at least one good friend, if they take out the trash the third time you ask, if they’re doing okay in school and have other interests, playing video games is probably fine," Olson concluded. "It’s not a big deal."

What is a big deal, say speakers, is parenting. Give your kids clear boundaries on the use of digital technology, and there’s a better chance their emotional growth will be positive.