Like it or not, children and technology go hand-in-hand and the digital world plays a massive part in most youngsters day-to-day lives. Most kids know how to answer a question by completing a Google search instead of asking their parents and most toddlers know how to swipe a screen on a smartphone.

This may add to the age old problem that parents have that their children think they ‘don’t know anything’, especially as the younger generation are getting more and more tech savvy.

The internet makes us smarter

In an earlier article we looked at the effects of technology on the memory of older participants and found that searching the internet could make us smarter. We cited research that showed us how technology may be beneficial to improving brain responsiveness.

We concluded that with today’s internet savvy young children we could be looking at a much smarter next generation. This is certainly the view of Don Tapscott, who suggests in this BBC article that the brains of children, born in the age of computing, are actually different to the current generation.

The effects on children and technology

Children are now so active in their use of technology that it raises many questions about what this effect is having.  Some of these are asked by Emma Carr on the same article.

  • Sharing too much of our lives
  • Being constantly recorded and analysed
  • Vulnerability to cyber-bullying
  • Lack of privacy or understanding about privacy
  • Being asked to hand over social media passwords in job interviews

It is suggested that we need to educate our children about issues such as these.

No need to be worried about being online

Don Tapscott says we shouldn’t be so concerned. With all the technological devices children have access to, they don’t learn the way we learnt.  He also says that children do understand privacy and they will ask whether a picture is going to be uploaded to Facebook or not, for example. They understand that it’s private, if it’s not posted.

Currently there is a lot of research and debate into whether it’s good or bad for kids to use mobile devices. Kaufman, who is the director of Babylab, (Australia’s first infant cognitive neuroscience lab) explored the impact of technology use on children aged 2-5 years.  He explains that when scientists and paediatricians talk about the dangers of screen time, often they are including TV.  Kaufman questions whether this is fair.  Should we assume that iPads and tablets have the same effect? He also disagrees that tablets inhibit creativity and points to the instructions given in a lego pack, which tell us exactly how to make it and even suggests that tablet exposure in babies too young to pick up an object themselves could in fact provide a kickstart to learning.

Quite rightly, he suggests that as research is in its early stages we don’t know what is going on the the minds of children when they are using tablets. They might be too young to sit still whilst researchers try to measure brain activity. Interestingly, Richard Graham, who treated the youngest ever ‘iPad addict’ at 4 years old, doesn’t think that they are bad for children.

Sensible choices

Tapscott suggests that it’s up to parents to make sensible choices about when to allow technology. If a child doesn’t want to go out or to go to school, and uses technology from morning till night, most would agree that this is a problem. Children shouldn’t be coming into to school too tired to concentrate because they have been using technology late into the night. So, the solution is to limit usage. For example, never allow it at mealtimes or instead of doing a social activity. Neither should it be available before or beyond a child’s bedtime.

Allowing use of technology at appropriate times will teach the children about boundaries and limits, which they also need for everyday life choices. Indeed, the late Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, set sensible limits on his children’s use of iPads, iPods and iPhones.

Will other skills be lost?

One of the big debates is the loss of handwriting skills.  Should we still insist on children learning the skill of joined-up writing, when access to computer keyboards makes ‘writing’ much quicker in some cases?

Ageeth Hup is a former primary school teacher and a handwriting expert who helps children with writing difficulties. She argues that handwriting is still an important life skill – even though some children are struggling with it due to increasing use of technology. She says that although keyboard skills are extremely important, writing precedes it. By forming a letter with a pen you are gaining a multisensory experience of what the letter looks like and this helps with recognising the letter, and in turn with learning to read. Keyboard letters (which are in capitals and not usually the first letters learned) can be learned later. And, without writing skills we wouldn’t see some of the hilarious notes that children make and stick in various places around that house like the amusing ones at the bottom of this article.

Computer studies in schools

Remarkably, Computer Studies, that are more like coding lessons, are finding their way into the curriculum from September 2014. Would you be able to answer a child’s questions on:

  • What’s an algorithm?
  • How is an algorithm implemented as a programme on digital devices?
  • How do you create simple programmes?
  • How do you debug simple programmes?
  • How do you use logical reasoning to predict the behaviour of simple programs?

These are the topics to be covered by the time a child reaches seven years old in the UK.

By age eleven, the hope is that children will be able to to create basic animations and simple websites. Valerie Thompson of the E-Learning Foundation pointed out over a year ago that to ensure that these skills are developed, WiFi is essential. Not just in the classroom but all around the educational buildings. She suggested that to enable children to use digital technology to its full potential, WiFi would give the pupils the ability to continue to learn over lunch or in the sports hall.

The smartest generation?

Today’s youngsters are already very tech savvy with 6 year olds having the same level of knowledge about technical devices as the average 45 year old. Children are overtaking us with their technology abilities.

Tapscott concludes: “There is a lot of cynicism about net addiction, losing social skills, being an army of narcissists only interested in Facebook and selfies. I found that none of that is true. They are the smartest generation ever.

Should we be afraid?

The author of this article for the Guardian asked for a lesson on tablet use from their son and debates whether “Perhaps the tablet was secretly designed with children in mind as much as – or, who knows, more than – adults. Perhaps that would explain why children enjoy, unintimidated, all its potential – and instinctively understand its limits too’’.

After a lengthy lesson on the iPad from their then 6 year old in how to use games, videos cameras they enquire “So you can basically do whatever you want to do on an iPad?

Ye-es’’ came the hesitant reply, with a consoling “But you can’t make it come alive. You can’t make the iPad come alive.