Your Brain on Devices – What the media says about children and digital technologies

31 mai 2016

CALGARY, May 31, 2016 — Two eggs sizzling sunny side up in a skillet. The message is clear: spend too much time on electronic mobile devices and you’ll fry your brain.

From 2013 to 2016, Linda Laidlaw and Suzanna Wong of the University of Alberta reviewed over 500 documents, articles and blogs from around the world to find out what the media’s take was on the rapidly changing mobile digital era and its implications for children. They will be presenting their study at the 2016 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Calgary.

Overwhelmingly in 2013, articles focused on the “risk” and the “negative” aspects of technology. They were sensationalistic in tone reflecting the uncertainty and fear that accompanied the new technology. And technology was blamed for a myriad of social ills. The use of mobile devices, instead of inactivity, was linked to a rise in obesity in children.

But the articles were also responding to concerns from educators and parents about the use of these technologies, from i-pads to cell phones, by their students and children.

“Children are more competent with new technologies and that changes the hierarchy,” said Laidlaw. “But the teachers are still the ones with teaching skills and they should be taking advantage of the children’s new skills to promote more critical learning.”

Although at the time there were a few articles that, according to Laidlaw and Wong, “romanticized” new technologies and saw them as the “answer to every problem in the world”, the articles that posited technology as the ruin of Western civilization garnered higher levels of traffic.

By 2015, digital media use by children was ubiquitous. And articles began to reflect an acceptance, on the part of parents and educators, that digital technologies were here to stay. The focus of popular media shifted from doom and gloom to looking at how to best engage with mobile devices. Which devices should children use, for what purpose and for how long?

But still missing from popular media, today, is a sense of children as critical users of digital technologies. Kids clearly have the technical skills to use the devices, but what can be done to use those skills to promote learning? Technology can be transformative if children are not seen as just passive viewers but active producers and creators of content. And children, parents, educators and the media, all have a role to play in ensuring that it happens.

Linda Laidlaw and Suzanna Wong will be presenting this research on June 1 at the 2016 Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences in Calgary. This presentation is called “This is your brain on devices: A close reading of media accounts of children’s use of digital technologies” and will take place at 8:15 am in Room EDC 276 at the University of Calgary campus.


About the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences

Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Congress is the largest interdisciplinary conference in Canada, and one of the largest in the world. Now in its 85th year, Congress brings together approximately 70 academic associations that represent a rich spectrum of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, including literature, history, theatre, film studies, education, music, sociology, geography, social work and many others. Congress 2016 is hosted by the University of Calgary. For more information, visit

About the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences promotes research and teaching for the advancement of an inclusive, democratic and prosperous society. With a membership now comprising over 160 universities, colleges and scholarly associations, the Federation represents a diverse community of 91,000 researchers and graduate students across Canada. The Federation organizes Canada’s largest academic gathering, the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, bringing together more than 8,000 participants each year. For more information about the Federation, visit

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