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It’s not the gadgets

Press Release – “It’s not the gadgets”

Language and connection suffer when gadgets displace parental contact

Parents have discovered that electronic gadgets make fantastic pacifiers for their children but a Family Coach at The Parenting Place is concerned at what today’s children are missing out on.

“No-one is amazed now when they see a toddler with an iPad”, says parenting writer and Family Coach, Jenny Hale from The Parenting Place. “Kids love them and parents love the way that they can keep children quietly absorbed for ages.” But Hale has concerns. “There’s a race to do research on how these gadgets will impact children long term. But there is already a huge amount of science that clearly predicts what will happen if these new screen-based toys displace the human contact, the cuddles and language that children desperately need from a parent. You would have to be very cautious about anything that gets in the way of normal, healthy attachment and learning. ”

“Their brain is at a stage where they need to hear and practice language. The one-way barrage of language from a gadget doesn’t teach them nearly as well as the interactive to-and-fro speech that happens with normal parental interactions. It’s a pity if our voice is always competing with the chatter from TV or the noise from a gadget.”

Hale is not opposed to children using tablets and other gadgets per se but is concerned to see parents using them well. “The best way to use a device is with a child, rather than just leaving them alone with it. Children learn best in the context of warmth, security and your interaction rather than in the isolation of an electronic bubble. Have them in your lap or beside you so that you are physically touching and talking together. In that context, a tablet is probably as good as a book. On those occasions when you do want them to play alone with a gadget, let them know it will be for a fixed time. Set a timer on the stove or on the device itself. I have parents consulting me about their children who play with these things for literally hours on end, and they get quite distressed if parents try to stop them.”

Hale is also concerned when gadgets isolate children from opportunities to learn from real life. “When you go out with your child – to someone’s home or a café – don’t make the gadget the ‘default distraction’ for your child. It’s actually a great time for them to look around, ask questions, make some choices and learn how to behave in this new social context. That won’t happen if they are just propped up in a corner with their electronic sedative.”

Another thing that worries Hale is that children might miss out on some of the proven brain-building benefits of play. “Beware of becoming their Entertainment Officer,” says Hale, “filling every moment of their waking life with stimulation. We should not be distressed when they say, ‘I’m bored’. Not only do they benefit from occasional ‘down-time’ but also a goal is that they learn to initiate play by themselves rather than constantly expecting external entertainment either from us or a machine. Play that involves creativity and fantasy, where they make up stories and have dialogues with imaginary characters, is proven to do so much for their mental development, their language and their physical dexterity. Can a glass screen substitute for all that? Maybe, but it’s far from proven and, personally, I doubt it. Blocks, balls, sand-pits, play-dough, crayons, sticks and dirt – it all seems pretty low-tech compared to today’s electronic toys, but they have decades of research proving their worth. Maybe it will be shown that the gadgets serve our kids just as well but I wouldn’t let the machines take over completely just yet.”


Another comment from John Cowan:

More than school

I was talking this morning on the phone to a friend in China. He mentioned that high school students there start school at 8 in the morning and finish at 9:30 at night. On three out of four weekends they will do remedial classes, and they work hard on studies during their holidays as well. Phenomenal. When the only way to get ahead seems to be getting into a good university, you can understand the whole system putting pressure on kids to study like that. It’s just that I don’t think it works. Of course their hard work delivers great scholastic results; it’s just that I don’t think academic results are the only or even best measure of a great education.

A couple of years ago a Korean TV crew interviewed me. South Korea is proud that its students now have the best marks in the world. But they were here in New Zealand to find out why it was that they could observe that, in spite of their ‘better’ education; New Zealanders had more initiative, creativity and entrepreneurial skills.

Let’s be clear: education has worked for these Asian countries – in only a few decades education has transformed their economies. I don’t doubt or disparage the value of a great school education system. It’s just I think that school is only part of a great education. The education your kids get when they work next to you in the garden is valuable too. The education they get out in the boat is magic. The education they get on that holiday in the tent is irreplaceable. The education you get building a trolley or exploring with friends is ultimately, superbly useful. Rote learning might stick a lot of knowledge into heads but I think it is the practical and lived-out learning you do in families, and at home and in the playground and sports field and on holidays that equips a brain for real use in a real world.

I believe that progress at school is incredibly important, but doing schoolwork should never be at the expense of getting a good education.


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