With two reports looking into how tech can affect childhood development, can a balance be met where technology enhances, rather than impairs, our kids’ lives?
A quick look around my peers and our increasingly growing number of children paints a predictable picture of how exposed today’s youngsters are to technology.
Most of us don’t have children older than four, yet many have long been swiping through pictures on smartphones, clicking on their favourite CBeebies character online and taking reasonably good pictures on our (or sometimes their own) digital cameras.
The risks of too much tech
None of this is particularly surprising, I know. We’ve also spoken about tech-savvy tots on Which? Conversation before, particularly from a cost point of view. But what effect is all this screen time having on their development?
According to a couple of different accounts out last week, a rather dismal one. Firstly, a former head teacher and chairman of the Independent Schools Council, Barnaby Lenon, warned that young people’s reading and conversational skills were being put at risk by overexposure to modern technology.
Limit computer use to one hour a day for children aged up to 12, and two hours for older pupils, he advises – otherwise you could have a tech-addict on your hands.
Over-the-top? It may sound that way, but hot on the heels of his comments came a report from The Prince’s Trust. While it neatly backed up his claims, it also delved into the bigger picture. The study looked at different family lifestyles and concluded that kids who grow up without the daily routine of regular bedtimes and family meals achieve worse results at school.
Apparently, teachers are complaining that growing numbers of pupils turn up to school too tired to concentrate after spending the previous night watching TV or playing computer games. And child development experts are also warning that the influence of screen-based technology on the brains of young children can harm their ability and progress at school.
Can technology and kids mix?
It’s good to see a study that looks at the whole picture of family life, rather than grabbing at quick conclusions about technology and children. Like many mums, I struggle to find an acceptable balance of TV and tech versus all those wholesome activities kids ‘should’ be doing, but regular bedtimes and mealtimes are a must in our house.
Tech doesn’t have to be a dirty word when it comes to children. We’ve all read about the 13-year-old genius who created a programme in his bedroom and sold it to a multi-national for millions. How is he less of a high achiever than the young musician of the year or what’s-his-name who plays Harry Potter?
And even if fame and fortune aren’t on the cards, TV can teach children new words and concepts and technology helps them approach problems differently. The key is in balance.
It’s all too easy to beat ourselves up about not being the perfect parent, but I’m actually taking positive conclusions from these findings. Provide a stable, balanced routine with plenty of interaction and the kids will be alright… even with a bit of time in front of a screen.