This is the third in a series about the effects of technology on contemporary parenting.
Q: How does technology affect child and adolescent development and learning?
A: Perhaps the greatest risk of technology for children is enabling them to give up social skills and replace them with all varieties of technical devices. Devices include iPhones, iPads, laptops and processes such as texting, emailing, tweeting that make instant communication possible. Children and older youth are having fewer face-to-face conversations, depending on the computer instead of learning math skills and using proper English skills in punctuation, grammar and spelling. Computers give users feedback about spelling, punctuation and grammar so they can correct errors without ever learning how to write properly.
People certainly need technology to survive in contemporary society, but there needs to be a balance. Technology has changed from being a bonus to being a necessity. There are so many areas we no longer commit to memory. We keep information in our phones and can find any facts or memo in a matter of seconds on the Internet. We have become a society of instant gratification and low frustration tolerance. The author of this analysis is Ryan Gavin, who works with technology, marketing and websites.
An Australian Parenting Website titled raisingchildren.net recently featured an article on media benefits for children and teenagers. Depending on the types and quality of the media, there are benefits for child and adolescent development. For children younger than 2 years of age, there are no benefits that have been identified.
For children 2 to 8 years, parental monitored TV programs, movies and computer games offer opportunities for development and socialization. Literacy skills that can be learned include the alphabet and minimal reading skills. Children also can master numeracy skills such as learning how to count. Children also can learn to identify shapes and colors. The ABC for Kids website shows helping behaviors and cooperation.
For older children, benefits of media include developing critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills for computer games designed to develop such skills. Ethical thinking skills can be developed by presenting problems or values in families compared with fiction and documentaries.
Education can be fostered by reading books after watching TV programs or movies based on books. Kindles combine technology with learning by the ability to download books. There are also online clubs that teach strategies for effective and safe use of social networking sites. Older children can play computer games with family or friends. Creativity can be developed by using imagination, art, modeling, music and media software or apps.
Teenagers can develop reading, writing and problem-solving skills through chat rooms or blogs. They can learn social skills in social networking on sites such as Facebook and MySpace. Teenagers can broaden their knowledge of politics and societies and can learn about current events through the news and documentaries. Observation of good role models in the media is another way to learn. The biggest drawback to that suggestion is the number of poor role models seems to outnumber good role models.
Other qualities that can be developed by media include education and acceptance of ethnic diversity, education about other places, people, animals and cultures, and opportunities to develop personal identities. Youth can observe people of different occupations.
ABC News released a news story based on “The Modern Parent’s Guide to Kids and Video Games” by Scott Steinberg. His contention is there is a broad range of video games that can be played for fun and do not feature foul language or violence.
Recently, a study from the Education Development Center and the Congress-supported Ready to Learn Initiative reported a curriculum that included digital media could improve early literacy skills when there is a strong teacher and parental involvement. The study on younger children, the 4- and 5-year-olds, showed gains in letter recognition sounds that matched letters and gains in understanding basic concepts about stories.
Another education study by the Education Department Center found children from low-income families are better prepared to succeed in kindergarten when their preschool teachers include education videos and games, courtesy of the Ready to Learn Initiative. Teens and tweens also can benefit from video games that promote teamwork, learning responsibility and people working toward a common good.
Research by the Office of Naval Research reported video games can help adults improve their abilities to reason and process information faster. Video game players scored 10 percent to 20 percent higher in cognitive and perceptual abilities than non-video games players.
Dr. Ezriel Kornel on WebMD states video games can improve hand-eye coordination and improve split second decision-making. Whenever the brain is learning, there are thousands of connections that form and can be used in other tasks.
According to Daphne Bavelier, professor of brain and cognitive studies at the University of Rochester, her studies show improvement in areas of attention, accuracy, vision and multi-tasking after playing certain games.
Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology documented those people who had just played a game which fostered working together to help others were more likely to engage in helping behaviors than those people who had played a “neutral” video game.
There are video games designed to teach and to inform. A video titled United Nations Food Force simulates real situations and teaches children about humanitarianism. In 2011, players of a game called Ecotopia challenged the creators of the game. They planted 25,000 trees in the game in 25 days. The game developers had to plant 25,000 real trees in the real world.
• Next week’s article will continue the discussion of how technology affects child and teen development and learning.
Judy Caprez is professor emeritus at Fort Hays State University.