Effects of Digital Toys on Childhood Development

Digital toys and gadgets are all the rage.  We can’t get enough of the iPad, iPhone, iPod – iEverything.   The newer and smaller and lighter the better.  My Mom, a teacher, recently paid me a visit in Seattle, and while I love her dearly, the woman is seriously confused by technology.  She asks me daily about “The Facebook” and why people care about what we ate for dinner last night.   The Kindle makes no sense to her at all and I had to change the subject when she brought up Google Buzz – too much for one digitally savvy daughter to handle.

In the craziness of explaining Web 2.0, my Mom, whose background is specifically in pre-school special education, sparked an interesting conversation about the effects of the digital wave on early education and childhood development.   According to many teaching professionals, the skills that develop as a result of tactile motions and sensory processes such as turning the page of a book, playing an instrument, coloring, etc. are at serious risk due to the passive nature of new digital toys/books.   The usability and design of these devices differ so greatly from their traditional predecessors, that teachers like my Mom have already witnessed noticeable changes in childhood development.

In one recent Mashable post, a 2 year old is filmed playing with an iPad.  Assuming the video wasn’t staged, the toddler actually navigates quite well around the new toy.  While the footage is absolutely adorable, it made me think about how different this girl’s childhood is from mine.  The legos and barbies I played with and the hard copies of Dr. Seuss I read are being replaced by PDAs and e-readers.   Like my Mom, I have to wonder what kinds of neurological and physical effects these new devices will have on the development of generations to come.  My Mom also mentioned that she has noticed a decline in social skills and speech development amongst students – perhaps because face-to-face interaction is being replaced by electronics.

It is still yet to be seen what the lasting effects will be, if any.  Who knows, maybe learning to read on a kindle will outweigh the educational benefits of learning on a real book.   There’s no doubt that in many ways, modern technology has indeed enhanced the education and development of children.   But what is the right age to incorporate digital devices?   Is there such thing as being too young to handle modern technology?  Regardless, I know that when I raise kids, I will still make sure that the toys and traditions from “the good old days” are still present, amid all the new i-toys.


About Kathy E. Gill (@kegill)

Digital evangelist, writer, teacher. Webmaster at King County Elections; educator at UW. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill, gplus.to/kegill, http://wiredpen.com

One response to “Effects of Digital Toys on Childhood Development”

  1. mrsmoy says :

    I worry about this a lot because I have a 2-year-old son. Should I let him play with our iPod Touch? I do, but I also read with him every day. From the time he was a baby, Lucas has been surrounded by books, toys and people who talk and play with him. Brain science shows that this all makes a huge positive difference in his development? How is he affected by the iPod Touch and other digital media? I’d be interested to hear what researchers at the UW’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences have to say on the matter. I have read about studies that suggest that the younger generation’s brains do work differently because of how they interact with technology.

    Like most things in life, it’s about balance.

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