In this post, we're going to take a look at how technology affects young kids and what impact some of these tech toys have on learning.
It's the year 2017 and technology is everywhere. Cell phones are getting smaller (and, at the same time, bigger!), laptops are getting lighter, homes are getting smarter and robots are taking over the world. OK, the last one's not really happening (yet), but technology certainly takes up a very significant part of our day—both at school/work and home.
Nowadays, most kids have a better grasp on technology than their parents, and some toddlers begin playing on iPads before they even begin to talk. With all of this in mind, we have to wonder: is the increase of tech toys for kids a good or a bad thing? What kind of impact do these technologies have on our children?
There are lots of conflicting reports out there—some claim that being exposed to technology too much can be harmful for young children, others disagree, plus there’s the fact that no one really knows what "too much” really means. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of information to go on, since very little research has been done on the impact of technology on a child's development.
Is watching Baby Einstein on TV any less harmful than watching it on an iPad? Is watching a TV show better than playing an age-appropriate app on the tablet? Is finger painting on a piece of paper really any different to virtual finger-painting onto a screen? Is the impact of technology on kids that much worse than the impact of TV?
Well, first we need to say that not all things are equal. In other words, comparing one iPad activity with another is more like comparing apples to oranges (no pun intended). So, arguably, watching a kid's show on a big screen versus a little screen may not have that much of an impact on children (aside from the possible spine curvature disorder from leaning over a small screen for hours, but we'll get to that later).
However, watching a TV show or YouTube clip on an iPad is very different from using an age-appropriate/educational app on an iPad. Let’s find out just how different it is.
The Impact of Technology on Children: Pros
When watching TV, kids are usually passive, but when playing with technology, they are far more interactive and tech stimulates their brains. When using technology, they're exposed to a wide range of subjects and scenarios, and need to think and react, understand the basic aspects of cause and effect, and action and reaction. They get to use hand-eye coordination and perfect their fine motor skills while pressing objects on screen and moving them about. They also get to practice their reading and math skills as they follow directions and keep track of their score.
When my kids were 5 or 6, they loved playing Fruit Ninja on my smartphone (where you slice fruit in half by swiping with your finger while avoiding the falling bombs). It's a fast-paced game that involves concentration, quick thinking, fast reactions and a speedy forefinger.
Image Source: Play Store
My twins would take turns playing the game in an attempt to beat each other's score. At the end of their turn, they'd show me their score and I'd help them read the numbers and figure out who won that round and by how many. I'm convinced that playing games on the iPad is how they learned to read large numbers. I'd love to say they are also now math geniuses as a result, but the jury's still out on that one. They do love fruit, however.
When playing with technology, kids are also occupied and less likely to get themselves into trouble due to boredom, especially if you're busy doing something else. As parents, we can't watch our kids 24/7. There are siblings to look after, meals to prepare, work to be done, laundry to fold, calls to be made—the list is endless.
I'll admit that I used iPads and TVs as babysitters on various occasions while I tidied up or caught up on emails, or simply needed a few minutes of peace. But it's the over-reliance on this babysitter that's the problem. It's estimated that some children spend an eye-watering seven hours a day using technology (The US Department of Health and Human Services).
How Technology Impacts Kids: Cons
While it's clear that many tech toys do have their benefits, there are some disadvantages associated with the overuse of technology that we should be mindful of. Anything that results in our children sitting in one place for long periods of time, devoid of physical activity and social interaction can't be good, regardless of whether it's watching TV or sitting there playing games.
Kids who spend too much time in front of a screen, be it large or small, are likely not getting enough physical exercise. This can lead to a myriad of health problems including childhood obesity, diabetes, and delays in physical development. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "slightly over 20 percent of children aged 2-5 are already overweight or obese."
In addition to that, spending too much time leaning over a screen can result in bad posture, and neck and back injuries later in life.
So, finding a game (think Xbox Kinect or the Wii) which requires your kids to move around, jump up and down, and get off the couch, is a great way to help lessen some of the physical downsides of technology.
Relying too much on technology limits a child's imagination and creativity. Instead of them building a fort out of a card box, or playing dress up and chasing dragons, your child’s engrossed in a world of their own, not noticing the minutes or hours go by. We are already aware of the value of play, but many of these integral learnings cannot be met when technology is the main form of play.
As kids get more absorbed into their electronics, they stop engaging with the world around them, which leads to a lack of social skills, and problems developing interpersonal relationships. Living in this fantasy world can make them less sympathetic to real-life problems. According to Health Research Funding, "More kids are being diagnosed with psychiatric disorders. ADHD, coordination disorder, anxiety, sensory processing disorder and depression among kids are on the rise. Also, let us not forget the premise of cyber bullying".
Sitting with your child as they plays with their gadgets and having a conversation about them, showing to your kid you're interested in what they’re doing, praising their efforts, and helping them when they stuck, are great ways to bring tech into playtime without triggering some of the more negative impacts of technology.
Parents of Generation Z need to navigate around an unfamiliar territory. We weren't weaned on electronics. We didn't have much of a choice TV-wise; we had to wait for our TV show to start. We cried when we missed it (unless we knew how to work a VCR!), because we couldn't just pop online and catch up.
Generation X has all the best advancements at their fingertips, and we need to monitor and guide them so that we limit the more negative impact of technology and take advantage of the educational and mentally rewarding sides of these awe-inspiring technological breakthroughs.
So, if used with caution, educational apps, tech toys, and even TV shows are a great way for children to sharpen their developing brains. Like with most things, moderation and finding that balance should be key when considering the impact of technology on our kids. There are so many fun and well thought-out educational apps and tech toys that make kids forget about being "educated". But let's not underestimate the importance of being active, being sociable, and enjoying some good old-fashioned playtime!