Spare the iPhone, Socialise the Child

Browsing the internet for research on the effects of smart devices, phone and tablets alike, on children will lead to the discovery of contradictory results, none of which seem to be conclusive. While some research focus solely on the negative effects that smart devices have on children, other research has been done to prove that such devices have a positive use as an educational tool. To get the maximal benefit out of these devices without incurring any of the negatives is a matter of balancing how much children are exposed to such devices. I believe that it is better to err on the safe side. I see three main reasons for this:

Interaction over smart devices cannot replace face-to-face interaction

My sister recently left for overseas studies. Many comforted my family by drawing attention to the ease with which we will be able to keep in touch with her through Whatsapp, Skype and FaceTime. However, in our hearts we knew that it would not be the same. We might still be able to see her animated gestures and hear her lively voice, but in no way would it be close to conversing with her face-to-face, eye-to-eye. Now, there is a study done by Stanford and reported by CNN (http://edition.cnn.com/2012/01/25/tech/social-media/multitasking-kids/) which proves that which my heart knows to be true; social interaction done over any media is unable to replicate the effects of real human interaction.

While smart devices can teach children about languages, math, science, geography and much more, it is only through social interaction that they learn things like emotions and social skills. Utilizing a smart device in place of personal teaching lessens the opportunities you have to impart such invaluable knowledge to your child.

Learning through social interaction can be engaging

If learning through social interaction has such a benefit over learning through smart device, it begs the question as to why parents and schools alike are increasingly using smart devices in the education of children.  I believe that one of the main reasons is smart devices’ ability to grab and hold the attention of a child. I have seen many children abandon their more ‘traditional toys’ once their eyes have feasted on the millions of colorful pixels which forms the screens of modern devices. A plethora of educational applications have been developed specially to teach your child in a fun and visually stimulating way.

However, if time and energy is invested, social interactions can be engaging as well. I recall playing games, such as ‘I spy with my little eye’ and ‘my mother went to market’, which taught me things like how to spell while bringing other benefits such as an increased awareness of my surroundings.  Another thing that needs to be pointed out is the possibility that smart devices actually overstimulate children. There is some evidence, though not definitive, that links media exposure and future Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Further, when children are fully immersed in the content delivered on the screen, they have less time to contemplate and analyze what they have just learned. With social interaction, you can guide the child to process the content you are conveying.

It forces us off our devices as well

If we’re honest, most of us would admit that smart devices have influences the way we live as well. Entertainment and work alike is accessible to us at any time and at virtually any place. Giving children their own device to play with then becomes a simple way to keep them occupied while we engage in other things that need to be done. While things relating to our work and our recreation are undoubtedly important, nurturing children should be of at least equal importance. Just as we take measures to ensure we have enough time for work and entertainment, practical measures also should be taken to ensure that we are spending enough time nurturing children.  Removing smart devices from children would require us to replace it with some other form of engagement. It is the perfect opportunity for us to put down your own device and socialize with your child. I personally find it a lot more relaxing to just sit next to my young cousin as he plays the latest game available on the Appstore while asking the odd question about the game in order to give a semblance of human interaction than to actually engage him in an activity or discussion that would require me to listen, process and decide how best to respond to him. Somewhat unsurprisingly, he too seems more than content with the first option. However, between the two of us, only I know which option is the more beneficial one for both him and me. Perhaps next time I will choose more wisely.

This week’s guest writer is Abraham Ponniah, a 22-year-old Economics undergraduate at the Singapore Management University.

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