Richmond Practice - to delete

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The good, the bad and the unknown.

By Dr Robert Arlt MD, Consultant Paediatrician

Published in Parents News, October 2015

Children are using smart phones, tablets and other digital media more and more, but what effect does this have on them?

When answering this question it might in the first instance be important to reflect on how we as adults are influenced by the use of digital media? Most of us are becoming increasingly dependent on being able to access information from across the globe and to communicate over distance via the internet and mobile devices. Sometimes virtual reality can be so interesting that it becomes an overpowering part of our lives. Children are exposed to the same risk as adults with one important difference. They are yet to developed a sense or grasp of the “real world”. They are therefore being presented with a powerful dilemma and it can be very easy to choose or withdraw in to virtual reality.

A recent study from Germany (Riedel 2015) suggests that more than 60% of children aged nine to ten cannot keep themselves occupied for more than 30 minutes without using a digital medium. They are also being influenced by the example their parents set. Parents who literally, have their heads buried in a device. There can therefore be less relationship building going on, less eye contact and conversation.

At preschool age children could be placed at a development risk when they watch too much TV and videos. They are supposed to discover the world visually in three dimensions using complex, adaptative eye movements. TV and other digital media make these unnecessary; the child will only have to focus on a single area and the sound comes from a different area usually the loud speaker. The need to imagine things may be limited as the story is presented, without the child being a part of the unfolding narrative.

The most powerful reason given for using digital devices is that it might be good for a child's education. There are programmes available to develop non-verbal reasoning skills and to learn your times tables, for example. Again the risk is that time with a compassionate teacher, who can motivate children, will be exchanged for a computer.

My recommendation is that preschool children will be exposed as little as possible to digital media, because they first need to learn to interact with others. School aged children should slowly be introduced and be taught how to be active users and not passive consumers. For example we might teach them how to make and publish a You Tube film or how to write into Wikipedia.

If you are concerned about a child who has become overly dependent on digital media contact us for a same day appointment or development check. We can assess your child’s social development so that you will be reassured that the child is developing healthily.