How technology is affecting our kids ability to thrive

GCBy Christine Wieringa

I have been in the field of Early Childhood Education for almost ten years. Every day, I work with children, and it is my job to observe, and plan activities so to help children learn, grow and help parents prepare them for the future. As ECEs, we are a big part of a child’s life during their most crucial years of development. It is very shocking as a teacher, to watch children in an environment full of interesting surroundings that encourage learning in all different areas of development and see children struggle with things that many people take for granted. One of the main things I have noticed, is how much modern technology is killing our children’s ability to learn, not only on their own but from their parents as well.

There has been a large jump it seems in children needing supports in areas such as communication and language, social/emotional skills and the use of fine motor and gross motor skills. Someone who does not spend every day with 16 children would probably not notice anything is wrong but as a teacher who deals with these issues everyday, it is obvious that technology is hindering our children’s development in ways that will most definitely impact their future as contributing adults in society.

I read an article recently (For The Children’s Sake, Put Down That Smartphone published on that touched base on how parents who constantly have their faces buried in a screen are unknowingly causing behaviours and putting up road blocks on the social or the emotional development of their children. Examples given were when a baby is babbling and cooing at the parent. The parent looks up from their devices for a few seconds to acknowledge their children’s attempts to communicate, but do not follow through with continuing the dialogue because they immediately go back to their phones, ipads or laptops. This may not seem like a big deal, but this is a very crucial time in the development of language in children. Not only are they learning how sounds are made, they are learning how to read emotions through facial expressions. When there is a lack in this interactions between child and caregiver, the results are terrifying further on down the road when that same child who was trying to communicate in infancy is still unable to communicate properly and read facial expressions and body language as they get older. Many times, these things are red flags to educators and the children are referred to speech therapists or other agencies for help in these areas. If avoided long enough, these will manifest themselves as behaviours that parents find unruly because the child is unable to communicate their needs to the parents and caregivers in ways that will get them positive attention instead of negative.

This brings us to how technology addicted parents create behaviours that would not have been there if they just paid attention to their children. The writer of the article observed children in environments such as parks and McDonald’s. One of the things that remained consistent across the board was when a child was acting out in one of these places, the parents were almost always on their cell phone while paying minimum attention to the child. This may seem like the parents problem, but in reality, these children are learning ways to get the attention of their caregivers and other children using negative behaviour, a situation that continues in all environments including school. These behaviours are often referred to specialists as they are intrusive to the learning process of not only the child, but other children in the classroom. These children are often labelled and sometimes even put on medication. The sad part about this is that it could all be avoided if parents would direct their attention to their children instead of worrying so much about what is going on in the online world.

After reading the above mentioned article, I decided it would be fun to conduct my own social experiment to test the findings the author outlined. To my surprise, it wasn’t hard to pinpoint behaviours that I saw in public as attention seeking behaviours. I saw a young child, with two adults and two other children shopping. Not only did the young child run into me while running up and down the aisle screaming, he was also climbing and playing in the watermelons and produce counters. I looked for the child’s parents to see their reactions to such unruly behaviour and I was not shocked to see not one, but both parents and the oldest child looking at their cell phones while the youngest child was running wild around the store. This is just one example of the things I saw that day while I was doing my running around. It really was interesting to see this theory come to life before my very eyes.

Games Teach Violence Solves Everything

Technology is also stopping children from being able to decipher reality and fantasy. Children are not able to tell if things are real or make-believe until they are around the age of seven. The use of violent video games by children this age and younger are astonishing. I have come across many children while working, that will speak of games like Call of Duty, and act them out on the play ground with their friends. Their play is very rough, and there is a lot of talk of killing and dying. When you ask the children where they have had access to this game, a lot of them will tell you that they play it with their parents or they watch their parents play it. This may not seem like a big deal to most people, but in terms of development this is a scary thing to have happen in our school yards. Children are watching a lot of violence regularly and they do not know that this is fake. They are not told that after you kill someone, or someone dies, they do not come back. A lot of parents do not want to have that conversation with their children because they are too young to understand it. If they are too young to understand it then why are they being exposed to it to the point that it becomes a daily part of their play with their friends? Again, if these children are left to learn these things on their own, the chances of them remaining violent later on down the road become very high. Fine motor skills is the use of your small muscles, and gross motor is the use of your large muscles. There was a video that went viral not to long ago of a girl who was given a book, and she tried to “swipe” the pages instead of turning them. Many thought it was cute but if you are an educator, this is something that should scare you. Believe it or not, the ability to turn pages in a book is a stage in development of fine motor skills. Without being able to use and develop your fine motor abilities , it becomes hard to do things like hold a pencil, tie your shoes, beading and other activities that involved the use of your fingers. A lot of children are referred to Occupational Therapists when this is red flagged by educators. With the lack of fine motor skills, the child’s learning suffers as they can not hold a pencil properly, making it hard to learn how to write , which is a necessity in life.

Technology Doesn’t Improve Motor Skills For Kids

Gaming systems that allow a person to mimic the act of playing a sport has caused problems in gross motor skills. You may think you are keeping your child active when they are playing soccer on the Wii, but the fact is, developing your gross motor is a lot more than being able to act out the motions. Pretending to kick a ball, has no value when actually learning to kick a ball. The act of kicking a ball requires balance and coordination, things a video game can not help you do. Children need to be taught how to do these things and not learn through a video game. Technology can be a good thing, or a very bad thing in today’s world. I have given you examples, from an educators point of view of how technology is ruining our children and a parents ability to be a parent. I challenge you to do your own social experiment and observe not only other people and their children, but look inside your own home, and see if you are guilty of any of these things. If you are, it is not too late to create a balance in your own home between technology and hands on learning with your children. In our home we have a “Rainy Day Video Game Box”, where my children can go when it is raining outside and play a video game. All of them are age appropriate. That is not to say we do not have adult games in our house, but my children do not see them or play them.

Encourage your child to go outside and build their skills. Teach them how to hit a baseball in real life, instead of on the Wii. Talk to your children. Show them how to get your attention in a positive way. Pay attention to them. Let your children see you when you are sad, angry, frustrated, happy, scared and let them experience these emotions with you guiding them through it. Society needs parents to put down their devices and take charge of their families again. Every child is a blank slate, a sponge, waiting and wanting to know about the world around them. Who knows, maybe your child is the next Einstein, or the next big deal in the NHL. But if we as parents do not stop indulging in all the gadgets and gizmos of the future, we will never know. Time passes by too quickly to waste it zombified on the internet. Get out there and be your kids world, I promise you will not ever regret the results.

  • Always Learning

    Parents have been ignoring children for years. My mom spent her afternoons napping or reading books instead of spending time with me, and I turned out alright. In her generation, kids were to be seen and not heard. Talking was not encouraged at the dinner table either.