Kids growing up now have great fun and learning experiences with new technology such as iPods, iPads, cell phones, skype, and podcasts. But, alarmingly, they are missing out on a whole range of learning, social interaction, physical activities, and emotional intelligence skills. Let me tell you what has happened to these kids. You cannot say you were not warned!
1. Kids are not playing outside anymore
More and more children are playing inside and are attached to their devices, computers, and video games. The UK government has got alarmed about the drop in the numbers of kids playing normal childhood games in the open air.
They have invested over £300 million to encourage teachers to do more sport in schools. They also want more kids to play games like hide-and-seek and hopscotch. The benefits are enormous as kids will be healthier, happier and less prone to obesity.
At the moment, about 33% of boys are not getting the recommended daily hour of exercise. The Play England site has loads of ideas on how to reconnect children with nature.
2. Kids are not learning through face-to-face interaction
How does a baby learn to express and judge emotion? How do they start to learn language? They do it by watching their parents’ facial expressions and they begin to become social creatures, acquiring essential skills which will be vital when they start playgroups and schools. But guess what is happening? The parents are increasingly absorbed in their electronic devices and cannot be bothered to even look, smile or coo at their own children! Watch parents in a café and you will see what I mean.
The alarm was raised by several paediatricians. One of these, Dr. Jenny Radesky, actually carried out a study of 55 groups of parents while they were eating at fast food joints. She and her researchers spent a whole summer doing this. She does not claim that the study has been done scientifically but has just observed what is going on. Needless to say, she is urging parents to put away their smartphones and give their children some attention. It will be vital for their development.
3. Parent-kid relationships are negatively affected
The digital parents are opting out of parenting and this is unfair to the children. The use of devices was also having a very bad effect on the way the parents actually interacted with their kids. There was a lot of negative, harsh interaction when it actually took place. It also made parents more cranky.
This is mentioned by Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson of Seattle Children’s Hospital in her blog. She recommends that making boundaries for use of digital devices is very important, so that real parenting can be done. She also says that both kids and parents should take digital breaks together.
4. Kids’ reading ability may be affected
There is not much research on this. But one initial study done by the Schugars of West Chester University suggests that the kids reading comprehension could be negatively affected. Their study showed that the kids who read paper books were better at comprehension than those who were using only ebooks. Kids on ebooks were inclined to skip the text and concentrate on all the interactive visual features such as popups. The best solution would be to encourage kids to read more paper books.
5. Kids have never played board games
Kids are online most of the time. Figures show that this has jumped by 38% since 2009. Whatever happened to those board games? Look at all the benefits a child gets, when you play together:
- Child learns vocabulary, counting, math, reading
- You can bond with him or her
- Child learns about turn-taking, winning and losing
- She or he can gain confidence, builds self esteem
- Satisfies competitive urges
- Increases attention span and focus
- Helps concentration
While many games and apps on smartphones are also good at building some learning skills, they can never replace the human interaction.
6. Kids do not know what real friendship means
When we grew up, we had friends, real friends. Virtual friends did not exist. Look at today’s teems who can count up to a few hundred friends on Facebook. The problem is that they have never seen most of them and they only know them very superficially through a virtual friend of a friend. Staying connected is great and today’s teens send an average of 3,000 texts a month.
But it seems that the concept of friendship and intimacy is being irrevocably changed and this will impact relationships later on. Studies at UCLA show that digital bonding is considerably less than real face-to-face interaction.
7. Kids are losing their creativity
Trevor Baylis, the famous inventor of the wind up radio, fears that children are not getting the hands on experience that he got when he was a boy. This is affecting their creativity. He learned about putting things together by playing with a Meccano set or by building model aeroplanes and so on. Few kids now never get their hands on games like this. Everything is done for them.
8. Kids are not learning empathy
Being tolerant, caring and controlling your emotions are life skills that will serve you well. But the digital era kids are not learning any of these skills at all. You cannot empathize with a device, at least, not yet! The best way is to play with other kids and to learn about sharing, turn-taking and giving. No, I don’t think there’s an app for that yet!
9. Kids’ scores in math and reading are not increasing
Look at what is going on in the Kyrene School District. They have invested over $33 million on updating classroom technology. Students get to create Facebook pages based on Shakespearian characters. Some choose song tracts and rapper tunes to match the mood of a character in a play or novel. It is all innovative and very exciting. The only problem is that the test scores in math and reading in this school district have remained just the same as in 2005 when there was no high tec in the schools.
10. Kids are getting no input on values and attitudes
The lack of real social interaction with parents and peers means that there is less and less time spent on teaching core values such as tolerance, kindness, honesty, diligence and respect. The devices are great for some learning activities but the parent-child relationship is becoming tenuous.
11. Kids are losing sleep
Dr. Kimberley Young, Director of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery, has warned that children may lose track of time while they are online. This has serious consequences for doing household tasks and chores. It also affects their mood and they become irritable when they are forced to switch off. One of the most serious aspects is loss of sleep because this impacts on schoolwork the following day.
12. Kids need supervision
Parents should be on the alert for any sort of online addiction. They themselves have to set the example and make sure that there is a balance between more traditional games and online activities. A happy balance can be achieved with these tips:
- Use Skype together to bond with grandparents
- Play video games together
- Negotiate digital break times where both parents and kids switch off all devices
- Encourage outdoor activities when possible
Digital media is here to stay. They are great learning and entertainment tools but they need to be used with caution and not at the expense of real face-to-face interaction.