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UC experts support new technology for children

UC experts support new technology for children and disagree with overseas report

January 18, 2013

Video games and IT gadgets were among the most popular presents handed out to children under the Christmas tree last month but are they good for children?

As high-tech gadgets become more affordable, parents are choosing to buy new technology gadgets as gifts for their children. However, an academic in Thailand has said parents relied on information technology so much that their children were becoming isolated and not learning how to interact with others.

Amornwich Nakhonthap, research chief of Thailand’s Child Watch Project, said research had found young people's overuse of social media could affect their physical and mental health.

He said children between the ages of eight and 18 spend about eight hours daily watching TV, using cellphones or playing on the computer.

``Less than a third of them lack life skills. This is a serious problem because it could lead to bigger problems when they grow up. Our families, communities and schools are failing to foster such awareness in our children,’’ he was recently reported as saying in Thailand’s newspaper, The Nation.

University of Canterbury (UC) marketing expert Ekant Veer said society needed to embrace the benefits of new technology and that pressure to buy technology was not just driven by industry but by all sectors.

Associate Professor Veer said the government was talking about the importance of technology and science and some schools were insisting on students having iPads/tablets for their studies.

``Universities require students to submit assignments in electronic form. We are surrounded by systems that require the use of technology. Parents can feel the pressure to purchase gadgets they think will help their children in their education, life and social circles.

``But, having access to technology from a young age will mean our children will be the best multi-taskers and information disseminators we have ever seen. They will be able to easily discern the useful information from a myriad of sources and with thousands of options at hand. They can tweet over lunch and upload a photo of their cat on to Facebook or Reddit.

``The reality is that what a pre-internet generation feels is rude, like texting during dinner with others, younger people see as being part of normal life and not necessarily anything to be frowned upon.

``Social networks are developing beyond the physical realm to the extent that close friends don’t necessarily have to be the person we see every day. They can be the people we meet up with online. Overall, the best advice is to encourage kids to find a balance between online and being offline as both will still exist. Forfeiting one for the other could be harmful.’’

Professor Veer said overuse of technology could lead to a degradation of offline social connections and poor fitness. Some studies have also shown a decrease in attention span. When information is presented to a child at a phenomenal speed, the ability to then sit quietly and read a book is hugely impacted.

But he said while many people over the age of 40 grew up without computers and online social interactions, children today were able to regularly utilise technology.

``What we are seeing is our social interactions becoming more and more technology mediated - being able to communicate effectively via a range of different technology bases is crucial for operating in society and will likely become the predominant norm for communication in the next 10-20 years.

``Children being able to use technology is not a problem - it is when technology over-runs their technology-free lives - that is, it's ok to spend time on the computer developing relationships, as long as it's not at the expense of your offline friends and family, too. It is about learning to balance the two realities and our children will become masters of this. It will become second nature to them.’’

UC child psychologist and education professor Garry Hornby said 21st century children needed to be as IT savvy as possible. Encouraging and supporting the use of any IT format or device they show interest in was good.

Professor Hornby said parents needed to provide guidelines and limits on children’s activities, such as time watching TV, doing homework and bedtimes. This also applied to time with IT devices and Facebook.

``Parents must set a good example with regard to such things as IT use, programmes watched on TV and reading books. Parents need to keep channels of communication open with their children, asking them about their day. They need to read to their young children, help with their homework and ask about any concerns they have.

``International research (PISA -2009) has shown that the more parents are involved in their children's education, the greater their children's educational achievement will be,’’ he said.


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