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Digital Devices and Their Impact on Children’s Emotional Regulation

In today’s digital age, mobile devices and tablets have become ubiquitous in children’s lives, often serving as primary sources of entertainment and engagement. The allure of vibrant screens and interactive content has made these devices an integral part of daily routines for many children. Parents and caregivers frequently turn to digital devices to occupy their children, finding them to be convenient tools for providing instant gratification and keeping children quiet during busy moments. This reliance on technology can offer temporary relief from boredom or tantrums, as children quickly become engrossed in games, videos, or educational apps. However, emerging research suggests that this pervasive use of digital devices may come at a cost, potentially having long-term negative effects on children’s emotional regulation. Studies indicate that while these devices can momentarily distract and calm children, they do not teach the necessary skills for managing emotions effectively. Instead of learning to navigate and understand their feelings through personal interactions and experiences, children may become dependent on external stimuli to soothe themselves. This dependency can hinder their ability to develop essential emotional coping mechanisms, ultimately affecting their ability to regulate emotions independently as they grow older.

 The Rise of Digital Play

The rise of digital play, especially through mobile games and apps, has significantly transformed how children engage in play. Unlike traditional physical activities that naturally limit themselves through physical fatigue, digital games can captivate children’s attention for extended periods, often only interrupted by external factors like parental intervention or eye strain.

This constant engagement with screens can contribute to digital dependency, where children may find it challenging to enjoy non-digital activities. This shift has raised concerns about the long-term impacts on children’s physical health, social skills, and overall well-being. Balancing digital play with physical activities and other forms of play is essential to mitigate these potential negative effects and promote a healthy, well-rounded development for children.

Using Devices to Manage Behavior

Using smartphones or tablets to manage children’s behavior has become a common strategy for many parents. While this approach might provide immediate relief by pacifying children’s anger or stubbornness, it can have long-term consequences on their emotional development.

A study published in *Frontiers in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry*, highlighted by Neuroscience News, indicates that relying on digital devices to calm children can undermine their ability to self-regulate emotions. The research suggests that frequent use of devices as a soothing mechanism can impair children’s emotional growth, making it harder for them to manage their feelings independently.

In contrast, direct communication and emotional guidance from parents are shown to be more effective. Engaging with children, understanding their emotions, and teaching them how to cope with difficult feelings can foster better emotional regulation and resilience. By prioritizing these interactions, parents can support their children’s emotional development more effectively than through the temporary distraction of digital devices.

 Expert Insights

Experts emphasize that mobile phones have become a primary choice for engaging children, often taking the top spot on their toy lists. This widespread habit of using devices to capture and retain children’s attention can lead to various issues, such as eye strain from prolonged screen exposure. Traditionally, methods like storytelling were popular for engaging children during meals or bedtime. However, these practices are increasingly being replaced by digital screens, fostering a dependency that can hinder emotional and cognitive development.

Key Perspectives:

– Dr. Veronika Konak of Jotvos Lorand University, Hungary: Dr. Konak highlights that the overuse of digital devices to manage children’s emotions can weaken their ability to control anger and frustration in the future. This dependency on digital solutions can impair the development of essential emotional regulation skills.

– Caroline Fitzpatrick, University of Sherbrooke, Canada: Professor Fitzpatrick echoes this sentiment, emphasizing that while digital content can easily distract children, it does not provide a sustainable solution for emotional regulation. Relying on screens rather than direct emotional guidance can ipede the development of self-regulation skills.

Overall, these experts advocate for a balanced approach that prioritizes direct communication and traditional engagement methods to support healthier emotional and cognitive development in children.

 Research Findings

A collaborative study by researchers from Hungary and Canada evaluated over 300 parents of children aged two to five, focusing on the impact of social media and digital device usage on children’s emotional control over a year. The study found a clear correlation between frequent use of digital devices for emotional management and a decreased ability to control anger and frustration in children a year later.

Key Findings:

– Study Demographics: The research involved over 300 parents of children aged two to five.

– Evaluation Period: The study assessed the impact of digital device usage on children’s emotional control over a year.

– Key Correlation: Children who frequently used digital devices to manage their emotions showed a decreased ability to control anger and frustration a year later.

These findings suggest that digital devices are not effective tools for long-term emotional regulation. Instead, they highlight the importance of direct communication and traditional engagement methods in fostering better emotional control and resilience in young children.

 The Broader Impact

The global penetration of the internet has led to an unprecedented number of children being connected. According to UNICEF data, one in three internet users worldwide is a child, with increasing numbers in countries like Bangladesh. This widespread connectivity, coupled with significant use of social media platforms among young children, raises concerns about the impact of early and frequent digital engagement on their emotional and social development.

Key Concerns:

– Increased Connectivity: With one in three internet users being a child, digital engagement among young children is at an all-time high.

– Rising Numbers in Developing Countries: Countries like Bangladesh are seeing a significant increase in the number of connected children, highlighting the global nature of this trend.

– Social Media Use: Young children are increasingly using social media platforms, which can influence their emotional and social development in various ways.

Potential Impacts:

  1. Emotional Development: Early and frequent digital engagement can affect children’s ability to mnage emotions, leading to issues such as decreased control over anger and frustration.
  2. Social Skills: Excessive use of digital devices can hinder the development of essential social skills, as children may spend less time interacting face-to-face with peers and family members.
  3. Dependence on Digital Solutions: As children become more accustomed to digital engagement, they might develop a dependency on digital solutions for entertainment and emotional regulation, potentially impacting their long-term well-being.

These concerns underline the need for a balanced approach to digital engagement, emphasizing the importance of traditional methods of interaction and emotional support to ensure healthy emotional and social development in children.


The evidence underscores a pressing need for parents and caregivers to reconsider the role of digital devices in children’s lives. While these devices can provide temporary distractions, they cannot replace the emotional support and guidance that children require. Promoting direct communication and emotional learning from parents is crucial in fostering healthier emotional development, better preparing children to handle their emotions independently.

As research continues to shed light on this critical issue, it is essential for society to adapt and prioritize the emotional well-being of future generations over the convenience of digital pacification. Ensuring a balanced approach to digital engagement, while emphasizing traditional methods of interaction and support, will help cultivate emotionally resilient and socially adept individuals. By taking these steps, we can better equip children to navigate the complexities of their emotions and develop into well-rounded, emotionally healthy adults.


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