Interesting viewpoint from Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, at last night’s Book Festival event, Multimedia Reading Experience. In short, she believes that children under the age of 7 who use technology are more likely to be the ones in class who have poor concentration, can’t focus on a task, want immediate gratification and results because their development has been inhibited through lack of unstructured play and human interaction.
Maybe this is too much of a sweeping statement…. How many children under 7 are not exposed to any form of technology? It’s not the case that every Primary 1 pupil is unable to concentrate for any period of time or is willing to persevere with a task that they are not immediately succeeding at. But it is becoming more common, of that there is no doubt.
As the eminent neuroscientist Professor Susan Greenfield has said, a screen-based lifestyle provides ‘a gratifying, easy-sensation ‘yuk and wow’ environment, which doesn’t require a young mind to work….We cannot park our children in front of the TV and expect them to develop a long attention span. The same goes for DVD players on the back of car seats to keep children amused on a journey, playing tennis on the Wii instead of going to the local tennis court and installing apps on your phone to keep children entertained when out at the supermarket.
Sue Palmer advocates that parents/carers need information about child development and to be made aware of the negative impact that techno-consumerism has on their children. Read all about it here in Screen Saturation and Child Development
What example do we as parents / carers set? Do we give our children the attention they need or are we distracted by, busy with, engrossed in some form of technology? A midwife despairingly talked of how it’s increasingly common for women to be texting their friends as they are delivering the baby. ‘They’re not even completely present at their baby’s birth.’ I was recently on a train up from London and watched a 6 month old baby in a car chair desperately trying to get the attention of her Dad through animated babble. He was sitting beside her, watching a DVD on his laptop and texting. Once the babble escalated, a bottle of milk was put into the baby’s mouth and was supported sideways by the man’s hand….while he continued to watch the DVD and text. This continued for over two hours – no eye contact, no physical contact, no communication.
I digress from the debate that ensued at The Book Festival….Winged Chariot publishes digital books for young children to listen to on an iPhone or iPad; Sue Palmer wants children to be cuddled and read to. Her message was…. Limit the use of technology for young children. Let them develop physically and emotionally through free play, exploration, experimentation and interaction with their peers and adults. There will be plenty time ahead to develop technological skills but for now they need to be allowed to develop at a less frenetic pace than the digital world is exploding.
However, this must not be an excuse for teachers to ignore any forms of technology. ICT should seamlessly be embedded in all areas of the curriculum. Literacy, in its wider sense, now includes digital literacy and this can be introduced in the Early Years setting. Digital books are appealing to all ages and a fantastic resource for English as an Additional Language teachers as you can toggle between languages. Technology is an invaluable addition to the toolkit to support those with additional support needs. There is no debate about that.