CHILDREN AND COMPUTER TIME... how much is too much?

Quote imagination Thoreau
Quote imagination Thoreau

My daughter works part-time at a tutoring company that cares for younger grade school children after school and assists with all homework; thereafter entertaining them until the parents’ arrival.  She mentioned how worried she was with children nowadays, and to me, that was a little humorous since she is only twenty-years-old!  She stated that after the homework is complete, she tries to encourage them to socialize at their table of six, in her presence, and working together find a way to use their imaginations.  So she asked, “Who can share ways we can now use our imagination?”  She said they sat, and sat, stared down at the table, and sat longer, and never gave a response.  So she offered several examples from having a treasure hunt outside to building a fantasy city with cardboard.  With looks of boredom from these young children, she said, “Okay, how would you like to use your imagination?”  In a heartbeat, they all retrieved iPads and/or expensive phones from their backpacks and started playing games – alone.  She stated it was as if they were all inside of their own little bubble.  They didn’t look at each other.  They didn’t laugh with each other.  They didn’t want to play together.  The only talk around the table was who had the nicest phone and iPad.  And their response to her asking, “Let’s go use our imaginations!” was, “We are!” Even though not a one was using a drawing/art/academic app or some type of similar play.

Days later she had a new group of children at a different school and asked the same question when their work was completed.  The results were better, but still, only four out of the six had ideas of ways they could use their imaginations.  The other two wanted only to socialize with their iPads.

That was eight out of twelve children that said they could not think of things to do on their own.  And when asked what they do with their free time at home, it was playing games on their iPad or phones, or watching music or make-up videos online, or they’re on their popular photo-sharing websites.

I am all for modern technology.  I love my computer though I am technologically impaired, and my family and two business partners will agree to that, but I believe majority of people will say it has made our lives much easier.  From communicating with others to finding the best recipes on earth to driving in faraway lands you dream of visiting with Google Drive to earning an income, the technology is amazing.  And some people meet the love of their lives online!

But are we going to pay the price one day for allowing our young children to spend so much time on iPads and phones?  And if so, what will that price be?  Will they be able to socialize as they age? Will they even want to? How is this going to affect their growing brains? I am all for the academic, art enrichment, crafts, etiquette, social behavioral games/videos available online, but are our young children spending too much time online? If so, what are the limits? And, what are they looking at?

You have scientists all over the world that will give you answers from one extreme to the other to the above questions.  You have ones that say it is fine being online so much at that young age, as young as two-years-old, and it will not affect their social behavior skills as they grow, nor brain productivity.  Then you have others that state that never in history has children so young spend so much time on the computer and the result could be “Digital Dementia.” It is a term used by neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer to describe an overuse of digital technology resulting in the breakdown of cognitive abilities in very young adults, with the affects being similar to an aging brain decades beyond their years, and in ways that is commonly seen in people who have suffered head injuries or psychiatric illnesses.

So what’s the answer? Being parents, and even though our children think we have all the answers, we know we don’t, and that’s okay.  All we can do is love our children, monitor them the best we can, ask them everyday lots of questions, guide them even when they don’t want us to, and encourage them to use their imaginations.  If you think they are spending too much time on the computer, then limit the time.  I heard a parent say she tracked the time her child was using his iPad for one week, whether for pleasure or school, and she had no idea of the hours he spent doing so.  For awareness, maybe it's time we all notice what we're not noticing.

Being creative and using your imagination is a beautiful thing.  It helps in all areas of our lives.  It is the main reason my partners and I started our company and created Harry Pierre & PeTunia Puddlesworth for children and made our first DVD with the duo – to encourage friendships, kindness, and to believe in the power of the imagination.

If you need a few extra tips on things to do with your children to encourage their imaginations, available free on our website, are Harry Pierre & PeTunia’s Top 40 Family-Fun-Time-Tips!

Helen Keller said it perfectly,"The most beautiful world is always entered through the imagination."

--Debbie Caldwell