Busting the myths about children and technology
Most of us aren't sure exactly why technology is bad for our children - we're just sure it is. Research shows otherwise. Dr Joanne Orlando sets the record straight on technology myths.
Children and technology

There’s a lot of commentary on the ways technology harms young kids, however, as a researcher in children, technology and learning I find most of this commentary is wrong. It’s not based on any reliable evidence and it seems its sole purpose is to create hype, hysteria and increase publication sales.

The misinformation it imparts is causing a lot of guilt and confusion for parents. They are often very proud of their child’s tech-proficiency and the important skills they’re developing. But they worry about the possible negative effects technology use can have on their child’s development.

Every learning experience in early childhood has implications for learning later in life, so it’s important to get it right. Below I bust some of the myths about children and technology so that parents can be confident in the choices they make.

Myth 1: Traditional play is best for young children

There is no valid research that tells us that children are advantaged if they only play with old-fashioned toys. Childhood is a precious time, however, some interpret this as the need for children to play in the same way they would have themselves many years ago. This perspective does children a disservice because it denies them the opportunity to live life to its fullest in their own era.

Play is vitally important to children’s learning and the key is not so much the form the toy or game takes, but the value of the play it promotes. For example, the PlayKids app presents a great collection of age-appropriate content for the under fives to actively engage with physically, intellectually and socially. The games, stories and songs promote memory skills and language development. The programs it includes, such as Mister Maker and Sesame Street support problem solving, literacy, numeracy and communication skills. The drawing activity encourages children to extend their skills to traditional drawing and play with their parents, friends and family.

Any early childhood expert would agree these are all important elements of quality play that support learning. The fact that it takes place on a screen is less important.

Myth 2: All screen time is bad

Claims of the dangers of screen time for kids are usually based on research that lumps all screen use together. The problem is that most of the research is actually about TV viewing and most of it is 20 or 30 years old. The screens we use have changed a lot since then!

It’s actually difficult to find an expert who thinks that quality experiences on devices are harmful for children. Research consistently shows that good use of technology actually offers young children the opportunity to engage with ideas they could not have engaged with otherwise. For example, a toddler might want to draw a picture or play a card game but their young motor skills slow them up. They can do these activities on a screen by simply swiping or tapping. Similarly the Sago Mini Toolbox uses audio and visual cues to help young children use tools in ways well beyond their years. It’s still important for children to develop their motor skills but the extra opportunities the screen provides, is really exciting for both learning and play.

Myth 3: Technology inhibits social skills

When children first started using technology, there was initial concern that playing a computer would be isolating and hinder their social development, but research continually shows that technology can enhance traditional social skills as well children’s ability to communicate using technology.

Being able to convey ideas, feelings and opinions through text, messenger, social media and the like is a new, social skill we now need for work and pleasure. It’s also a skill that governments around the world have identified that children now need to learn.

On a final note, our children are born into a different time and it’s important they be raised in ways relevant to their era. Technology offers young children important and distinctive experiences, which can make a difference to their learning. Selecting quality, age appropriate apps and content for young children can engage with is the key! Balance and maintaining a healthy range of activities is also important for both children and adults.

This article was written by Dr Joanne Orlando for Kidspot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz

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