Lately I have been really debating an internal dilemma: how much technology should we allow our kids to use, if at all ? Many mums I speak to say that it is the way it is nowadays, and that as long as it is used with moderation, it is fine. However, as a Psychologist, probably because I overthink about the impact on learning and the brain, this topic makes me somewhat nervous. Needless to say that this is back on my list of worries when I read that Steven Jobs would not let his kids touch a tablet and how there is a movement in California of software engineers that take their children to private schools where there is purposely no technology at all.
More recently, I read an article in Psychology Magazine that suggested that technology makes us stupid. This is not news. With the Internet, information is freely offered to us. The learning obtained from hands-on-experience , also called kinaesthetic learning, is practically inexistent when using a smartphone or tablet. This is in contrast to , for example, reading lots of related articles from an academic journal and/or searching the meaning of words in the dictionary to understand an issue. The article explained that not making any effort during the learning process means that we forget a lot of what we have just read – it only stays in our short term memory.
On the other hand, I also read and hear how much having such amount of information at our fingertips is making us more aware of many topics that in the past we would have never thought of. As a result, we form opinions about things that we would not have otherwise ever considered, making us perhaps more savvy. With social media in particular, we merge into new social dynamics governed by communities of knowledge and interest, which go beyond traditional demographics, such as age, gender or country of origin. Today globalisation happens not only socially and economically, but also mentally, moulding us into new individuals belonging to networks of like-minded individuals.
Back to our children, should they be exposed to technology from young age? I think it depends on what you do with it and how you allow children to use it. I would certainly emphasise lots of off-line kinaesthetic learning: via movement, non-virtual games, and physical activity during the day. But to go as far as removing all access from tablets or computers in the house, I find it a bit too extreme. Perhaps you could simply limit use to educational apps. For example, Reading Eggs is an app that is quite fun for children as it has all the colours and cartoons in addition to interactive reading exercises. One of them consists of tracing letters on the screen, guided by the computer to move the finger in the right direction, and getting feedback in return.
Everyone is different and many parents will vary from my opinion, but as I write this (first) blog and think more about this issue, I would recommend three things: a) choose activities that copy the main principles of offline learning, namely practice and receiving feedback; b) ensure there are time limits according to the child age; and c) make clear that technology is simply part of our little ones lives- it should not be forbidden nor be a replacement of their true lives.
After all, you know your children and how they react to technology – I think a common sense rule of thumb, is that if they get over-excited, it is probably too much.