Do children learn better with less screen time?

Do you remember a time before PC's, laptops, tablets and computer games? When making a phone call meant using a fixed line device that could only ring and click? Times move on, progress we are told is a good thing. But wait, did anyone ask whether all this technology is helping our children's learning in their early years?

I have long been concerned about the length of time young eyes and postures spend hunched over controllers, tablets and computers. It seems to me that learning how to write with a pen, draw with a pencil, paint, sculpt, take things apart, make models and, fix bicycles are equally valid skills to learn and develop. To which we can easily add: play sports, read books, swim, run, learn musical instruments, sing, act, imagine, converse, play, explore and so on.

Do we want all our children to end up in offices staring at screens all day every day? Is that a good set of disciplines to be training children as young as 7? I think not. I believe that children can easily learn these skills in a few hours a week when they are ready. Let's face it they are likely to use many devices at home anyway. And they have a knack of running rings around their parents when they do.

An OECD report published recently ( BBC link ) makes for interesting reading. It suggests that technology is not the panacea to learning that we have often been led to believe. It states that screen time does not help reading skills either. Surely some mistake? Isn't the internet the ultimate answer to all our questions? Yes. And is it also the ultimate distraction? Smart phones are incredible, but do they encourage better grammar or conversation? Hmm, that's worth thinking about isn't it? Are we encouraging short attention spans and instant gratification instead of true childhood development?

My theory is this. Let's develop our young children's minds, their physical skills, their social skills and their spirits first and foremost. Let's keep the tools in their place. As tools, not as primary skills. Technology is a helper it is not the font of imagination, solving the world's problems or nurturing new talent. It has a place and can help sure, but it does not make the person.

The alternative is that we risk creating a generation of one-dimensional people if we limit their development to how to swipe a screen, search the internet and touch type. What about the myriad other skills and abilities the world needs every minute of every day? Isn't it more sensible to balance children's learning and maintain a mixture of practical, theoretical, vocational, factual and technological skills? Of course some children will become gifted programmers and in time many will use computers as tools to support their trades. But which comes first? The human being with the drive and ability to achieve great things or the blinking screen demanding attention every second of every day?

Roald Dahl expressed a similar thought eloquently in his poem Mike Teavee : '(TV) rots the sense in the head, it kills imagination dead'. And computers are in my experience every bit as limiting. They are great for the execution of tasks and ideas, but I find they stop creative thought dead in its tracks. Give me a pencil and piece of paper every time. It is the process of writing, reviewing, adjusting and repeating that helps me. Talking things through with another person is better still. I'm sure it uses more neurones and connections. I'm convinced that more lateral thoughts result from conversation and sharing ideas socially.

Seriously though, there has to be a balance don't you agree? Moderation in all things. Too much screen time really could make Jack and Jill dull boys and girls. And that would be two genuinely missed opportunities.

D.M. Jarrett