When we compare our childhood with that of our own children the most marked difference is going to be the technology that is now a part of our lives.
For me, this is certainly true. When I was a little girl in South Africa we didn’t even have a TV! Just last night my daughter had to her homework, which entailed drawing a dinosaur and writing a few facts about it. Straight away she got the iPad so we could ‘find some dinosaurs’. She is 4 four years old but she has no difficulty accepting that messages can be sent instantly, you can be connected to a world of information at your fingertips and that computers can be the most obvious learning and teaching tool.
This world offers our children so many opportunities and for many children, it really levels the playing field. It is not only the children of high-income families who have the opportunity to experience so much more. Everyone has access to information and can pursue their interests, reaching out to like-minded people through the internet.
The challenge for most parents is not in encouraging their children to explore the latest technology but rather how to stop them!
As with most things in life, there are good effects and bad effects of the computer-based activities available for children. The good news is:
- The brain can get a good workout! Skills needed to play games involve abstract and high-level thinking.
- Children learn, to follow instructions, problem-solving and logic and hand-eye coordination and fine motor and spatial skills.
- Memory and pattern recognition can improve.
- There are many opportunities for multitasking and the simultaneous tracking of many shifting variables and managing multiple objectives.
- You can have fun together. Many games are attractive for both children and adults and can provide a good bonding experience. Often your child can beat you hands down, which makes it even more fun for them.
- Development of turn-taking and cooperation as some games involve multiple players.
- Increased self-confidence and self-esteem as they master new games and levels.
The not so good news is:
- Exposure to violence. This is the number one concern of most parents, teachers and researchers. A scientific study by Anderson and Bushman, 2001, states that children who play more violent video games are more likely to have increased aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviours and decreased pro-social helping.
- There is evidence that the more time a child spends engaged in computer games the poorer their academic performance.
- Your child can be exposed to values and behaviours you do not approve of. This can include bad language and rudeness as well as situations where violence, vengeance and aggression are rewarded.
- Children can become confused between reality and fantasy.
- Computer games, including apps, can be addictive. For some children, this can be a real concern. Children who are addicted to games can become depressed and develop anxiety issues.
- The danger these new gadgets present is an increasingly solitary existence. They can also have a detrimental effect on our ability to focus for any length of time on one activity. This is a concern not only for children but also adults and the focus of much new research. Parents must be aware of this and regulate the amount of time a child spends playing with the gadgets as well as regulate the amount of time they themselves spend on their gadgets when with the family.
As parents, we must accept that we do live in a high tech world and the use of computers, the internet and an understanding of possibilities this connectivity can lead to is really second nature for our children. However, as we know this is not without its dangers and as parents it is a good idea to:
- Be aware that doctors have said it is not healthy for children to sit in front electronic screens for more than 1 – 2 hours a day. This includes TV, PSP, computers and even iPhones.
- Use technology as a means to an end. Set up your child with an email account so he can send messages to friends and family members. If you know his password you can monitor the account. Do homework on the computer.
- Encourage sports, outdoor activities, book reading and other family activities to provide a balance.
- Monitor what your child does on the computer, make sure games are suitable and encourage a variety of games, including physically active games, scientific or historical games so your child is learning more than the mechanics of shooting or crashing that goes on in so many games.
- Make certain times gadget free. For us, it is mealtime and bedtime where conversation and storybooks still rule.
No matter how busy a parent is, they must be aware of what their child is being exposed to and take responsibility for that. Children still need to have social interaction with their peers. The right way to bring up children is still to share with them your values, expectations and to be understanding of their needs and desires. As wonderful as the advances in technology are they mustn’t be allowed to erode the connection between child and parent. Time spent talking and playing together builds that relationship and so far nothing has replaced the importance of that.