Mom, can I play Angry Birds on your phone?”
“Can I play it on your iPad?”
“How about the computer?”
“But all my friends’ mothers always let them play with their phones!”
This conversation happens at least once a week at home, but I am very firm about not giving my 6-year-old child gadgets to play with. Why?
The answer is quite simple. I would prefer her cycling and playing with other kids, doing jigsaw puzzles or reading a book quietly rather than playing or watching something on a device.
Before reading on, think to yourself. How many children have you seen refusing to eat their food unless they’re watching a YouTube video? How many harried parents have you seen, shoving their phones into their toddler’s tiny hands to keep them quiet? How many children have you seen throwing tantrums when their devices have been switched off or taken away?
In the last eight years or so, smartphones and tablets seem to have taken over our lives by doing everything from waking us up in the morning to booking movie tickets and yes, even acting as babysitters to our children. In India alone, smartphone usage has risen from a mere 76 million users in 2013 to a staggering 204 million users in 2016! It is estimated that children spend a whopping 7 hours a day in front of electronic media! Other statistics reveal that children as young as two years regularly play iPad games and have playroom toys that involve touch screens. While they are an irreplaceable part of our lives, they can also prove harmful for our children.
How does smartphone use affect children? Between birth and age three, our brains develop quickly and are particularly sensitive to the environment around us. Any changes that happen in the brain during these tender years become the permanent foundation on which all later brain function is built. When a young child spends too much time in front of a screen and does not get the required stimuli from the real world, her development becomes stunted. She will then be unable to focus, concentrate, lend attention, sense other people’s attitudes, communicate with them and build a large vocabulary. The scary part? These developmental issues are permanent.
Tablets are the ultimate shortcut tools. Unlike a mother reading a story to a child, a smartphone-told story spoon feeds images, words, and pictures all at once to a young reader. Rather than having to take the time to process a mother’s voice into words, visualize complete pictures and exert a mental effort to follow a story line, kids who follow stories on their smartphones get lazy.
The device does the thinking for them, and as a result, their own cognitive muscles remain weak.
Children’s brain development depends on authentic human interaction. If a young child is spending more time with an iPad instead of playing with other children, his empathetic abilities—the instinctive way you and I can read situations and get a feel for other people—will be dulled. He also might not develop the ability to learn non-verbal cues and may lack the skills necessary for one on one communication.
Have you ever seen a mother chuckle as her baby tries to “swipe” a real photograph, or punch his fingers onto a poster or book as if it were a touchscreen? It may seem cute, but it points to something much deeper in the child’s brain — it teaches the child that all actions have an immediate effect. You want to do something, just touch the screen and it’s done! This is true only in the on-screen world but not in the real world. Since the child gets everything from his gadgets immediately at such an early age, he does not learn to wait for things in the real world. This can lead to a basic inability to pay attention or concentrate, which can continue throughout his life!
Screens of devices are much brighter than the real world. Looking at these bright screens stimulates a child’s mind much more than the real world would. The real world then seems dull in comparison. Why would a child then want to put away his gadgets?
Research shows that even toys that talk and sing, light up, and play music actually interfere with learning rather than contribute to it.
So what can we do? There are a lot of benefits to letting little ones use technology. Once a child is over the age of two, you can allow him to have maybe an hour of screen time to help develop coordination, hone quick reactions, and even sharpen language skills. Smartphone use should stay in moderation, and never stand in for human interaction or real-world face time. If your child is bored, that’s alright! Boredom is often a gateway to imagination and innovation.
The bottom line? Limit gadget usage with your children and encourage them to spend more time with other kids.
Today technology has become an inevitable part of our lives, and it’s very hard for parents to prevent the influence of smart gadgets on their kids. However, not doing so does more harm than good!
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