As I waited patiently in line to pay for my groceries, I couldn’t help but notice a toddler sitting in the trolley behind me with large rosy cheeks chewing on her teething biscuit. Suddenly, the soggy biscuit dropped to the floor and her eyes lit up as she had spotted a bright pink Chupa Chup. She caught the attention of her mum and gestured that she wanted one. Her mum was quick to say the dreaded word ‘NO’. Almost instantly, those rosy cheeks began to turn a shade of bright red and tears started welling in her eyes. Before the little girl could even begin kicking and screaming, the mum grabbed an iPad from her handbag and shoved it in front of her. The iPad had saved the day once again.
I wasn’t sure if what I had just witnessed was genius or a way of paving a path of destruction. There’s no doubt that screens have become the easiest way to preoccupy kids and avoid those difficult tantrums. The shopping centre, restaurants and waiting rooms are often shared with kids distracted on screens watching TV shows, movies or playing games.
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I use to entertain myself and spent hours playing with Fleur Rollercoasters as I waited at the doctor’s surgery for my mum. Occasionally, other children would approach me and together we would swivel the beads along the plastic coated wires. This was not only fun but also stimulated the brain, encouraging colour recognition, counting, eye-hand coordination and group play. These toys have disappeared from waiting rooms and have been replaced by the trusty iPhone and iPad. Kids are now immersing themselves in these screens, failing to acknowledge surrounding sounds and movement. So how good could this possibly be for their development?
It’s no surprise that the bright screen, loud noises and touch features excites the children and draws them in. When the iPad was first introduced, it was such an expensive product that we would never imagine placing it into the hands of a young child. Over the years, both the iPhone and iPad have become tremendously popular due to its easy to use interface – so easy even a toddler can navigate it. Nowadays, children have been raised surrounded by electronic devices and often have their own hand-me-down gadget. A recent study conducted on the amount of screen time of different aged children has found that, on average, children under the age of 2 clock up 14.2 hours of screen time per week. Furthermore, 50% of toddlers and preschoolers using screen-based devices are unsupervised while doing so and most parents report using gadgets to occupy their kids while completing tasks.
When speaking to a prep teacher, I was shocked to discover that she teaches a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) class in South East Brisbane. It is believed that these devices assist in learning and encourage the children to remain engaged. Despite the encouragement of adopting iPads, the extent to which they enhance the student’s engagement and learning is not well documented due to the recency of the tool in classrooms. With the growing trend of encouraging personalisation of learning and increased flexibility and access, devices are being used to allow students to take ownership of their learning and become more independent. Professor of Education at Monash University, Neil Selwyn, a leading researcher into the impact of technology on schools, is not in favour of this concept.
“Technology can make learning much more exciting and engaging — but so can a good teacher and a good whiteboard,” he said.
Ultimately, there are both benefits and drawbacks when considering the implications of BYOD classes on learning. The use of devices opens a world of possibilities to students through apps and enhances the learning experience. The downside to this, however, is the increased need for better infrastructure and support services that have the ability to work on multiple platforms and operating systems. In addition to this, teachers have a duty of care to each of their students to ensure harmful and inappropriate activities such as bullying are not occurring as a result of having access to these devices.
If the education system is beginning to encourage the use of devices, it’s no wonder that parents are also at ease with the concept. After all, it only makes sense that if your child is exposed to these devices at a young age, they’ll become increasingly computer literate and more successful at school, right?
Unfortunately, there is limited evidence of the future consequences of the growing issue as this generation are still young. What these parents aren’t aware of is the increasing evidence that exposure to these products from a young age can actually be counterproductive.
“Actually we don’t allow the iPad in the home. We think it’s too dangerous for them in effect.”
The reasoning behind this was because he recognised just how detrimental the iPad could be to one’s learning and how addictive it can become.
There is insufficient information surrounding the extent of the effects of screen-based devices on a child’s physical, social and emotional wellbeing. With 80% of parents concerned that their kids spend too much time using devices, the main identified concerns revolved around the children’s wellbeing and family-problems in relation to their screen-based devices.
Firstly, kids need to interact with other kids. In a world where a tablet is instantly handed over to toddlers fighting over a toy, the child is deprived of the opportunity to learn to cope with certain emotions. How would this conflict be resolved and how would they learn to share? Playing teaches children skills which they use for the rest of their lives. They learn by interacting with the world and each other. Play is essential to growing up healthy and research shows that active, creative play has positive influences on every aspect of child development. It assists in sculpting the brain and teaches kids to learn to negotiate, to deal with strangers, lose gracefully and follow the rules. It lays the foundation needed for conflict resolution and general social interactions throughout life. It’s not a matter of how beneficial the tablet is for the child, it is also what they are missing out on by being glued to the screen.
Kids need to learn to be bored and to find ways to entertain themselves. When I was younger, I never remember being bored as I would find my own fun and make up my own games. Kids need to use their creative muscles and engage their imagination rather than reaching for a device.
“Your role, as a parent, is to prepare children to take their place in society. Being an adult means occupying yourself and filling up your leisure time in a way that will make you happy,”
says Lyn Fry, a child psychologist in London with a focus on education.
“If tablets are used to fill up the child’s spare time, then the child’s never going to learn to do this for themselves.”
An iPad should not be seen as an easy fix to boredom as there are many more enriching ways to occupy the brain. Playing with dolls, doing a jigsaw puzzle, climbing a tree or building Lego are much more beneficial in stimulating the brain and encouraging development. This child’s play not only stimulates creativity but also encourages them to learn more about their own interests.
Describing it as playing Russian roulette with their development, Dr Richard House, who is a leading child psychologist, argues that the electronic images seen on screens can result in a kid having a distorted perception and experience of the world.
“To confuse children when they have hardly begun to get a handle on this world, by introducing them to virtual, techno-magical worlds, is surely an absurd reversal of the natural order of things,”
So what can parents do to minimise the effects of these devices?
In the highly tech-driven world we live in today, it would be unrealistic to completely stop the use of devices. Instead there are a number of steps which can be taken to minimise screen time:
- Set limits on time and content: Have allocated time periods in the day where your child can use their device and access certain games, movies and TV shows. Anything out of this time is unacceptable, providing boundaries for the child and allowing them time for ‘real play’.
- Suggest active fun ideas instead: There’s no doubt that kids love to play! Make playing fun for them by getting involved and encouraging them to play with their toys and friends.
- Be a good role model: Studies have proven that children really listen to their parents and look up to them. Kids follow the actions of their parent, meaning that if you were to reduce your screen time and be more active your children will too.
Despite the fact that screen time can also be beneficial, it’s important to remember that everything should be consumed in moderation. Children should be exposed to different experiences in life to ensure they are enriched with knowledge and are prepared to face what life throws at them.