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Kids and iPads. The Good, Bad and the Ugly

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Reviewed by Nymark M, PhD on April 28, 2016

Technology is all around us today. Schools use whiteboards and iPads to educate their pupils. Most children have iPads and other such devices at home for their entertainment, and to interact with their social peers. This has had a profound impact on how children behave in society, as well as on their creative development. Technology is becoming increasingly prevalent, and is now even developed specifically for children.

There are many benefits to technology. Children have learned to entertain themselves and find out information. But at the same time, they now seem to struggle to be entertained “live”, even when in social situations with friends. Children should have access to technology, as it is such an integral part of our world, but parents should also provide them with guidance in terms of how best to use it and, perhaps even more important, how often they use it.

So what is the good, the bad, and the ugly of kids and iPads?

The Good

Because children are now adept at using technology from a young age, understanding it far better than what their parents do, children can explore the world without having to actually go to it. By a simple touch of a screen, they can explore the Seven Wonders of the World, learn about history, and complete mathematical equations. This is a change in learning style, but one that should perhaps be embraced rather than opposed. Society always develops, and educators should try to stay with the times, empowering children to use technology as part of their educational career.

The National Writing Project and the College Board have worked together on completing the Pew Internet Project survey in 2012. What this research, which looked at 2,500 teachers, found was that some 75% of educators felt that the impact of search engines and the internet has been ‘mostly positive’, particularly in terms of the research skills their students have. What this means, as well, is that students have become a lot more self-sufficient, which is an essential life skill.

Additionally, we cannot deny the fact that technology devices like iPads have made education a lot more inclusive. Children with disabilities are now better able than ever to participate in all activities in the classroom. Those who have dysgraphia and dyslexia, for instance, can use technology in order to overcome their problems. These were problems that, in the past, would leave a child labeled as ‘stupid’, and would often make them the object of ridicule among their peers.

The Bad

It is undeniable that technology has provided the world with fantastic benefits. However, it also has some negative consequences. In the 2012 Pew Internet Project survey, for instance, it was also highlighted that 87% of teachers see modern technology as a distraction, which can be hard to manage due to the generation itself having a very short attention span. Additionally, by using technology, children do not participate in real life scenarios. We have only had this type of technology available for around a decade, which means there is no control yet to measure what sort of impact technology has had on sociological facets of society. We simply do not know how technology is shaping tomorrow’s adults, as that would be telling the future.

The Ugly

Did you know that Steve Jobs, the brains behind Apple and the iPad, wouldn’t allow his kids to use iPads at home? This was because he was worried that his children would become addicted to technology. This goes a long way towards explaining what the bad side of iPads actually is. And this is corroborated by a number of leading scientists, some going as far as to say that giving a child an iPad is a form of abuse.

Dr. Richard House compared it to ‘playing Russian roulette’ with a child’s development. He says that children receive a distorted and indirect world experience, because they see everything on a screen. Children, according to Dr. House, have a limited concept of reality when they are young. Introducing them to virtual realities at such a young age confuses them even further, and they are often not able to distinguish between the real world and the virtual world.

Dr. House’s comments may seem slightly exaggerated, but he has received significant support. The Association of Teachers in Lecturers in the United Kingdom recently made a statement about their views on iPads and other similar technologies. They have stated that they now regularly see 3 or 4 year old children who have almost no manual dexterity and do not understand real space, but they are able to swipe a screen.

In 2013, Fisher-Price, a toy manufacturing giant, had released the ‘apptivity’ baby seat. This seat came with an iPad holder included. Unfortunately, the company came under huge criticism for this product, which has now been discontinued, although it is still available through certain online marketplaces like Amazon.

Some experts believe that, due to prolonged and continuous use of digital screens, children’s memories are becoming eroded and they will soon not remember what a pen and paper is for. Some go so far as to suggest that this type of technology is ‘reversing the order of things’. Empirical evidence to suggest this is true, however, remains lacking.

The above are the more extreme ideas of why technology is bad for our children. The reality, however, is that some 300,000 iPads were sold within the first 24 hours of it being made available back in January 2010, and more and more have been sold every day since. iPads are more than just a craze, and even marketers were surprised at how fast the technology was adopted across all age groups. Because there is no empirical evidence available yet, we simply do not know just how ugly the ugly side can get.

What we do know for sure is that children hold their devices very close to their face. We also know for sure that they stare at their screen for very lengthy periods of time. And we also know that devices emit blue light, and that this can cause retinal damage. In the worst case scenario, children may develop age-related macular degeneration, something that is usually expected only in people over the age of 60.

It simply isn’t known whether it is the good, the bad, or the ugly that will be most prevalent, because we haven’t been able to research things yet. Books, have been written on the subject already, and the only real conclusion is that children are too different to draw parallels across the board. Some children simply are more sensitive to certain stimuli, which means they will be affected more.

Recent Research

One interesting piece of research has been released by the Millennium Cohort Study. This is a United Kingdom-based study group that has been following the development of some 19,000 individuals who were born in 2000 and 2001. So far, they have found that the children who used modern technology for at least three hours per day were more likely to develop relationship problems, emotional symptoms, and behavioral problems by the time they were seven. Interestingly, they did not find any negative behavioral changes in children who would play video games for at least three hours per day.

You Can Do Things

The reality is that we live in a new world, one that is developing at an incredibly rapid stage. There are some serious downsides to this development in technology. At the same time, there are some tremendous benefits as well. As such, it is about finding a balance. Some of the things you, as a parent, can and should do, include:

  • Limiting the amount of time your child can spend each day using computer screens, iPads, televisions, smartphones, and other such devices.
  • Making sure your child is encouraged to go out and play.
  • Having plenty of books and magazines around for your child to read.
  • Offering alternatives to technology that you can get involved in – play games as a family, have a game of hide and seek, go on an excursion, etc.

What is known, as well, is that if children spend all their time with one type of technology – be that an iPad or something else – they may miss out on developing other skills. A child who spends all day drawing with crayons, for instance, will struggle to hold a pen and use various types of technologies. It is all about extremes, in other words. Every experience that children get, whether it is sitting around the table with their family, playing Snake on their parent’s phone, climbing a tree, or researching their homework online, has value.

Indeed, iPads have good, bad, and ugly sides. They also have many unknown sides and the reality is that we simply won’t know what technology is doing to our children until they become adults. Whether you believe that it will do them no harm, or whether you are on the opposite side of the spectrum and believe the natural order has been destroyed, only time will tell. But in the meantime, do try to strike a balance with your own children. There’s a beautiful world out there, and they are missing it.

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