I worry about the impact of what I see as the over-use of technology in our family. I never really wanted my children to play video games and so on at all. That decision was taken out of my hands when my parents turned up with a games console one day for my oldest son. More followed and all my children spend a lot of time on screens with the boys particularly keen on video games.
In my childhood, I think some children did have games things but I was not one of them and did not miss them. Now, they are a part of our everyday lives. Parents have always struggled to find reliable ways of pacifying a child when they are upset, but now more than ever, many appear to be counting on smart-devices to entertain their children. I think this is a worrying turn of events. A smart device can distract but it can not provide the listening, counselling and hugging skills of a parent or other loved one.
Children now own their own smartphone by age 7; based on a survey of 1,500 parents – Opinium found that children also owned an iPad by age eight. This makes me feel our family is not so bad. My children were much older when they got phones and quite basic ones at that. I am not attached to my phone and so my children seem to have phones in their right place too. I am also never keen to buy the latest or more expensive item partly because I can’t afford them and also because I like children to value things and know that price is not always what matters most.
Have I used smart devices to calm my children down on occasion? Have I just wanted some peace sometimes and accepted that smart devices can act as babysitters allowing me to get to the loo or make a cuppa? Yes I confess I have done this. Sometimes juggling work, home education and housework means I have to hope the children can entertain themselves from time to time. At times like this, I can almost work up a love for smart devices.
If parents continue to use smart devices to entertain children, then in the long-term, it is unclear how this may impact a young child’s social and emotional development. As opposed to using more traditional methods, digital devices appear to be more convenient than human interaction, but only time will tell how much of an impact this will have on a child’s cognitive learning.
Infinite Playgrounds, specialists in creating wooden canopies and natural playground equipment, investigates just how much of an impact this is having on our children, and how we can return to more interactive forms of play in the future.
The problems with smart technologies and child development
Before the age of two, a child’s sensory play with objects or other people helps them to develop their problem-solving skills within unstructured play. A person’s capacity for empathy is derived from social interaction with others, so when a child plays with an inanimate object – such as a smartphone – this limits their ability to gain an understanding of others, as they don’t solve problems with others constructively. However, I know my children would argue that some video games involves team-working skills and that friendships can form online.
Every person has their own thresholds for sensory information; for example, someone who has a high threshold finds it harder to register sensory information, whereas others have a lower threshold – thus finding it easier.
Studies have suggested that smart devices compromise the extent to which these thresholds can be developed – limiting a child’s cognitive ability to register external stimuli that allows them to understand the world around them. However, more traditional forms of play, such as using building blocks, can ignite a child’s imagination and basic maths skills through interaction with physical stimuli. This is opposed to digital forms of entertainment that the child can’t touch. I think some of us parents have lost touch with the play we enjoyed as children. When I step back into traditional play the children love it whether den-building, crafting items for an imaginary desert-island or Lego which has always stood the test of time.
Can smart technology benefit a child’s understanding?
The simple answer is that there is no proof that smart technologies encourage or compromise a child’s learning. Studies have suggested that in children who are close to school age, children’s television programmes and smart technologies can help to improve vocabulary and reading comprehension, but this is only when children have already acquired the basic cognitive behaviours and skills attained from human interaction.
Parents can help by testing smart applications before they are given to a child, to establish whether they are worth handing over to their children for play in the first place. It strikes me us parents are facing huge changes and could do with far more support in this area.
The benefits of sensory play
The five senses, taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing, allow a child to evaluate and weigh up the world around them. These senses help build stronger cognitive abilities, whilst human interaction improves language development, gross motor skills, and teach children the basic principles of social interaction.
As well as producing cognitive benefits, traditional forms of play also produce physical benefits within a child. Heightened bodily awareness within the space they are in, and balance, are improved when children interact with the world around them, not a screen.
This is because this type of play refines their thresholds for understanding the five different types of sensory information that they will process. By making stronger connections with the brain, a child is able to retain more and learn more as a result. I have looked into how I might incorporate the five senses more when it comes to our home education adventures.
Although smart technologies have become part of an adult’s everyday life, this doesn’t mean that they need to be part of a young child’s one too. Research is beginning to reveal that smart technologies, as opposed to traditional interactive forms of play, can do more harm than good. Perhaps limiting a young child’s exposure to smart devices will allow them to make the most of their early-years learning, improving their cognitive understanding and the world they live in.
I may be old-fashioned but I still really do not like seeing babies and very young children on screens at all. Let’s get back to traditional forms of play and bond with our children rather than use the screen as a babysitter.