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March 18th, 2013

Most parents are astonished at how quickly and easily their children adapt to modern technology, whether that is a desktop computer, tablet, video game console, or smart phone.

Children seem to embrace technology far more naturally than their parents, but is so much exposure to computers really good for them?
The advantages of children using computers:

Over the last three decades computers have become an integral part of our lives, and for our children being able to use a computer will be as essential as learning to read and write.

Many schools are making I.T. an integral part of their teaching, moving computers into classrooms so they are continually accessible rather than restricting their use to a separate I.T. room. In the modern world it is inevitable that our children will need some exposure to computers, so our role is largely to supervise and monitor this.

Computer based games can be very beneficial for children in moderation. Dr Livingstone, an LSE Professor on the executive board of the UK’s council for internet safety, suggests that children can learn competitiveness, logic and reason, problem solving and strategic thinking, and good hand eye co-ordination from age appropriate computer games.

Many computer games also provide positive reinforcement; when a child does well they are immediately rewarded. The co-operative play functions on many computer games allow more than one player meaning that friends or families can play together, creating a social situation. Virtual world games where the child has to care for a virtual character or pet can teach them about nurturing.

The downside of children using computers:

Playing on a computer is often a time-filler for children, used to keep them quiet or stop them from getting bored. Unfortunately this can sometimes reduce creativity because children don’t have the same need to invent their own games or find themselves something to do. Where computer games replace other activities such as outdoor play, sports, reading, or creative play, this can have a negative impact. If a child is usually alone when they play on the computer this can also lead to social isolation.

It has recently been reported that watching screens for long periods of time can be detrimental to children’s development, actually causing screen addiction, and this can include computer screens as well as television screens.

Computer time should be included when you calculate how much time your child spends in front of a screen. One of the dangers of children using computers is their access to unsuitable games or networks.

Ideally parents should play a game themselves before they let their child play it as children who play games that involve violence or aggression are more likely to show aggressive characteristics in real life.

Moderation is key with children and computers. Trying to stop children using computers altogether is unrealistic, and it’s clear that computers do have certain benefits for learning. Limiting the amount of time your child spends on the computer and balancing computer based activities with outdoor and creative play is a great idea.

Ideally try to use the computer with your child, rather than seeing it as something just to keep them quiet. This will enable social interaction as well as teaching them about computer safety.

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