Technology for Children – Friend or Foe?

Young boy engaged with a desktop computer
Who can deny that modern technology fascinates children? They are drawn to it like moths are drawn to a light. However, is the latest technology, especially the touch screen, a friend or a foe? What are the pro’s and con’s and what can we do about it?
Flash-back to the past

In my late teens when I was studying for a degree in science, one of our assessment tasks was to write up the code for some calculations to be performed by the university’s computer. We had to type up our program in a computer language called ‘Fortran’ and then hand it to a staff person who would use a special machine which punched holes into cards. We would collect the punched cards and pass them on to the computer department where a computer operator would feed in the cards. Eventually, we would receive a long series of pages of striped paper with our printed results. The process was difficult, long and tedious. The computer itself took up a whole room in the university.

The present

Desktop computers, laptops and hand-held devices including tablets and smart phones, are all around us. Technology works with great speed to perform many routine tasks, enables us to pay bills, helps us keep in touch with friends and entertains us. Hand-held devices are seen everywhere as their owners tap away, sending and receiving messages, playing games or listening to music. Children at public events, even toddlers in strollers, can be seen gazing at a screen while their parents’ attention is elsewhere.

Pro’s for children using technology
  • There are many digital educational programs available for children, including books to read.
  • For older children, gathering information about almost any topic is quick and easy.
  • Word-processing software and tools, such as spelling and grammar checks, make presentation of assessment tasks better.
  • Bright colours, moving pictures and sound effects capture and hold children’s interest.
  • Hand-held devices are easy to carry around and touch screens make technology very accessible to children.
  • Keeps children occupied and entertained.
  • Computers are machines and cannot give a child a hug or listen attentively to a child’s concerns.
  • Children’s concentration spans are shortened because of quick ‘pay-offs’ designed to keep them interested.
  • Comprehension skills are not developed as the screen does not discuss nor interact in the same way as people do.
  • Children rely on tools such as online calculators and spell checks instead of developing their own skills.
  • Large chunks of time are taken up with sedentary (sitting) activities instead of outdoor play which strengthens bodies and minds by providing exercise in fresh air and sunshine.
  • Technology can become addictive!
What can we do to help?
  • Spend time outdoors with children, tossing or kicking a ball or going for a walk, run or bike ride.
  • Take them bowling, roller-skating or indoor rock-climbing when the weather is bad.
  • Encourage participation in team sports.
  • Limit their times on computer games or social media to specified times or days.
  • Talk with children about beliefs, values, known interests and things that are happening in their lives.
  • Give them significant jobs to do, show them how to do each job, and praise them for genuine attempts to complete the job.
Final thoughts

Have you found technology in your family to be a friend or a foe? Please leave a comment below.

Note:  If you wonder if you or a child have become addicted to technology, check out this article by a psychologist: