Children are increasingly becoming more comfortable interacting with a screen – the thinner, brighter and bigger, the better – than with their parents and families.
Constantly-improving technology has become a permanent part of our lives and is spilling over into parenting, socialising, communicating and even development.
Dr Google has replaced the family GP, the electronic nanny in the form of mum’s Smartphone or dad’s Ipad, with loads of apps designed for kids, has replaced real time spent with them, EBooks have replaced the library, and Television has replaced “cops and robbers” with neighbourhood friends.
It can’t be denied that technology is changing the way adults and kids learn and behave, the way we interact and communicate, and the way we acquire things.
Whether introducing your child to technology at a young age is good or bad, has become a concern. Given the rate at which technology emerges and advances and that it is in its infancy, there isn’t the benefit of historical evidence nor enough time to research the value and cost of these advancements in relation to how it influences children’s ability to think and develop.
More and more kids are learning to work with tech gadgets before even being potty trained. Possibly because technology proves a quick pacifier in times of tantrums. Many parents take pride in their toddlers or pre-schoolers being tech savvy, and an increasing number of schools are considering making technological devices essential learning aids.
Cii Radio spoke to Doctor Lorraine Excel – head of the Foundation Phase Learning at the Wits school of Education about kids using any form of technology in their early stages of development.
While Excel said there is a place for it considering that it’s here to stay, she did not believe it should be a primary educational tool. “… young children learn predominantly through moving and therefore they need to be doing other things to help build all the under pinning skills and concepts that they need for later academic learning,” she said.
But Muhammad Amra, head of WonderKids Montessori said their school will be introducing tablets this year from pre-school phase to examine whether it can enhance the benefits of traditional educational methods.
He says given its newness it would be impractical to deny it because there is no evidence to prove its harms or benefits yet. “We have all been groomed into thinking the traditional method, that children need to learn by using their hands and undoubtedly that will always be the foundation. But is the use of technology going to deny them that? Are we going to use technology and replace the traditional system that is the debate.”
Recent research investigating the neurological pathways and how they develop in the brain of a young child is related to a certain amount of physical activity and movement. That seems to establish neural pathways in young children which are essential for later learning.
Technological gadgets with applications designed to incorporate the user’s own movements, Excel said might be helpful but concentrate on small areas of movement. She said while they might aid in parts of the learning process, the screen becomes nothing more than a “sophisticated work sheet”- not the ideal way of acquiring knowledge and skills and concepts.
“Another very important part of development in children is the social and emotional side and for children to gain that they obviously have to interact with each other. And I think there’s a great danger in excessive use of technology especially children who are reluctant to socialise that they can easily hide behind the technology and then people are happy, parents are happy, the child is busy but the child is not actually learning essential social skills which I think we all need as we grow up, technology or no technology,” said Excel.
Both Excel and Amra however agreed that technology was here to stay and will in some form or another be introduced to children. It was up to parents to monitor their use, they said,
“We know there is enough research proven over and over, the harm and benefit of TV. It’s the parents’ choice and it’s the parents guidance that is required in raising children, and control the access. The harms of TV come in when it is unbridled, uncontrolled, children are given complete access to it. The down side is overuse an addiction,” explained Amra.
Limiting a child’s technology use is important especially since children play outside less now than before. Narcissism, lack of empathy, dependency, depression and other personality disorders have also been noted as results of over exposure to technology. There have already been cases of kids being treated with technology addiction as well as other conditions reported. Excel stressed the need for limiting a child’s interaction with technology in their early years.
“For instance in a pre-school programme, I wouldn’t introduce it as a formal part of that programme but it would be there if they wanted to use it to interact with it just like with any other type of learning material like blocks, puzzles etc,” she said, “… I think parents often equate children’s ability to work on these technological devices as a child being really bright or really intelligent – and I’m not saying the children aren’t – but I don’t think it’s a true measure of the total development of the child and for me in early childhood that is what’s very important.”
A UK research report revealed that around 2.1million children under the age of eight, equal to 27 per cent of children in this age group, have a tablet. With the rise in children not just using these gadgets but owning them too, it introduces the problem of parents who can’t afford them being pressured to buy it so their child “fits in”.
The age old debate of children wearing school uniforms versus “civvies” is slowly changing to whether parents should let their kids own tech gadgets or not. This is sure to clearly separate the so called haves from the have nots.
Sakeena Suliman Cii