There has been a meme doing the internet rounds that has the current technology condition spot on: “I hate it when you can’t figure out how to operate the iPad and the resident tech expert is asleep... because he is 5... and it is past his bedtime.” How often do we boast about how capable our preschoolers, and even our toddlers, are on the latest gadgets? Kids today are becoming more techno-savvy from a young age, but sadly this often means they are becoming less play-savvy as a result of screen time cutting into playground time. It’s a little disconcerting when in the space of time it takes you to say “don’t touch my phone” your child has already swiped to unlock, taken a selfie (or an unflattering one of you lunging towards your hijacked phone), and sent it hurtling through cyberspace to the first person that pops up in your recent calls list – with any luck, grandma and not your boss, at an age when they can’t yet even hold a pencil to write their name.
Go back a generation or two where kids (and parents) couldn’t fathom the idea of these electronics. Instead kids played - they really played: hopscotch, Marco Polo, swinging on the jungle gyms, climbing anything that could be climbed, making mud pies and just being kids. Somehow we’ve come to believe that in order for our children to keep up with the ever quickening pace of the world, we are doing them a favour by downloading one ‘educational’ game after the next and we settle into a false sense of parenting pride that we are giving them the best opportunities. In reality, we remove ourselves from the interactive parenting role and replace ourselves with an interactive gadget.
Looking at what the experts say, we should probably become more conscious of the amount of time our children are spending on electronic devices, and also the way they use them. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek3, a professor of psychology at Temple University says that “a toy should be 10 percent toy and 90 percent child, and with a lot of these electronic toys, the toy takes over 90 percent and the child just fills in the blank.” Results of research conducted by Cris Rowan2, a renowned paediatric occupational therapist, showed a direct link between increased time spent on cell phones, tablets, internet and TV, and issues with children’s school performance, behaviour and development disorders. On the contrary, where children actively engage in play, with traditional toys, research shows numerous benefits to a child’s overall development including both fine- and gross motor skills; logic and problem solving; building social skills, teamwork and relationships; language and communication skills; tactile stimulation; enhancing creativity and imagination; and many other benefits that prepare children for life. Dr Miriam Stoppard1, a parenting expert and journalist says that when a baby plays, it develops half a million brain connections every second.”
The questions we need to ask ourselves are: Are our children playing enough? Are they engaging in enough outdoor free play that allows them to move their bodies in ways that help them develop? Do they interact naturally with their peers in a safe and prepared environment equipped for learning through play? How often do they experience real life opportunities for experimenting with physics, science and maths concepts through playing with sand, water and playground equipment? Compare these answers to the one of how much time they spend hunched over or in front of a screen with information pushed at them by virtual characters in one dimensional worlds and I believe many of us will realise it’s time to get our kids play savvy again.
- Technology is No Substitute for Traditional Child’s Play, 2013/09/30, Dr Miriam Stoppard, a parenting expert, journalist and broadcaster Huffington Post
- Traditional Toys vs Electronic Toys, 2016/01/15, Mark Richardson and Peter Finnegan, Co-Founders of the Lifetime Toy Company, LinkedIn Pulse
- Traditional Toys May Beat Gadgets in Language Development, 2015/12/23, Pam Belluck, NY Times