Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Children and Technology

                    As a grandmother of numerous young children, I am concerned about how technology affects them.  I wondered, Does early use of technology help or hinder their education?  I was particularly interested in numerous recent articles about this subject.

                    In one article I found on line, John Lister wrote about how Patricia Greenfield, a professor at UCLA, looked at 50 studies about how technology affects children.  "She found that media such as television and video games do limit some aspects of their mental skills, but also help improve them in other ways. 
                    "Tests over the last 50 years show a clear and consistent increase in visual reasoning skills.  These involve seeing information and processing it quickly to come to a judgment."

                    Another benefit of technology on today's children is that they are "better than their ancestors at multitasking."  Surgeons who are "skilled at video games are better at keyhole surgery."  In fact, video games may be better practice for them than actual surgery!  This idea is not new to me because I was informed once by a young medical doctor that his years of video games helped develop his medical skills.

                    Professor Greenfield found that technology was both good and bad for children.  It appears that learning is not always enhanced by an ability to cope with complex information.  As an example, "one test found that children who watched a version of CNN Headline News with only the news announcer on screen remembered much more detail about the stories than those watching the standard version with multiple on-screen graphics."

                    She also reported that technology may be "damaging critical reasoning and attention span, leaving children less skilled at concentrating on a particular point for a long time.  This makes it much harder to solve longer and more complex problems."

                    Common Sense Media produced a report about the effects of technology on children from birth to eight years of age - Zero to Eight:  Children's Media Use in America.  This report had seven "key findings."  I recommend that you go to the report to find more information than I can give.

                    "Key Finding 1:  Young children use digital media frequently."  More than 50 percent of young children have access to mobile media, computers, and video games.

                    "Key Finding 2:  There continues to be a substantial digital divide, including both computers and mobile devices."  Nearly 75 percent of children ages birth through eight years of age live in homes with computers; however, children in lower-income homes have access to computers less than 50 percent of the time while children in higher-income homes have access to computers more than 90 percent of the time.   The same types of percentages apply to access to smart phones, iPod, iPad, or similar devices.

                    "Key Finding 3:  Children under 2 spend twice as much time watching TV and videos as they do reading books."  Almost 50 percent of babies and toddlers spend nearly two hours daily watching TV or videos, and 30 percent of them have TVs in their bedrooms.

                    "Key Finding 4:  TV continues to dominate children's media use."  Approximately 65 percent of children ages birth to eight years of age watch TV at least once every day, 42% have a TV in their bedroom, and 39% live in homes where the TV is left on nearly all the time whether or not someone is watching it.  "Children this age spend an average of 1:44 watching TV or videos in a typical day, compared to :29 reading, :29 listening to music, and :25 playing computer or video games."

                    "Key Finding 5:  Broadcast television is the most accessible and widely used platform for educational content among lower-income children."  Nearly five times as many lower-income children "often" watch educational TV shows as those who use educational computer games or software; they are more than ten times as likely to watch TV than use educational games or apps on a cell phone, iPod, iPad, or similar device.  "Educational TV is the one type of educational content that lower-income children are more likely to consume than higher-income children are (26% often watch vs. 17% among higher-income families)."

                    "Key Finding 6:  Media use varies significantly by race and socio-economic status, but not much by gender."  "African-American children spend an average of 4:27 a day with media (including music, reading, and screen media), compared to 2:51 among white children and 3:28 among Hispanics.  Children from higher -income families or with more highly educated parents spend less time with media than other children…. Twenty percent of children in upper income homes have a TV in their bedroom, compared to 64% of those from lower-income homes."  "The only substantial difference between boys' and girls' media use is in console video games."

                    "Key Finding 7:  Even some young children are media multi-taskers.  Overall, 16% of 0- to 8-year-olds use more than one media 'most' or 'some' of the time; among 5- to 8-year-olds, 23% do.  Among the 79% of 5- to 8-year-olds who have homework, 21% 'usually' or 'sometimes' have the TV on while they do it."

                    Newspaper articles indicated that parents use technology to entertain toddlers and other children in restaurants or while running errands.  Parents have been using television as babysitters for numerous years; now they use smart phones, iPods, and iPads to do the same.

                    Experts say that "balance is the key."  Children should learn through a variety of mediums, and technology can be one of the ways.  If children are "isolating themselves" or "narrowing their range of interest in things," these are red flags.  If children are throwing tantrums when not allowed to use the smart phone or other gadgets, parents should consider making changes.  Using technology to learn spelling or practice reading can accelerate learning, but children should not substitute "one-on-one, face-to-face interaction between children and parents, or children and peers."  Children need to learn social skills such as "reading emotions from facial expressions and taking turns in conversations."  (Rasha Madkou, Associated Press)

                    Parents should use wisdom and good judgment about using expensive technology gadgets to entertain toddlers and children.  Gadgets can be good tools for learning, but they shouldn't be the only tools used.

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