Failure To Connect

by Jane M Healy, Ph.D.

Today‘s children are the subjects of a vast and optimistic experiment. If it is successful, their minds and lives will be enriched, society will benefit, and education will be permanently changed for the better. But there is no proof--or even convincing evidence-- that it will work.

The experiment, of course, involves getting kids "on computers" at school and at home in hopes that technology will improve the quality of learning and prepare our young for the future. But will it? Not necessarily, especially if used inappropriately or at the wrong ages.

When and How Should Children Start Using Computers?

Many child development experts believe that children wouldn‘t suffer the slightest disadvantage if they didn‘t see a computer until age ten or even later. I recommend age seven as a possible readiness point. Prior to that time, computer use may do far more harm than good in terms of physical health, social and language development, and basic intelligence. There is no critical period for learning computer use. Spending valuable brain time on Internet surfing or inferior software dressed up as "edutainment" will not prepare youngsters for the complex intellectual and personal demands of a rapidly-changing world.

Human brains arrive in the world with excess potential to make connections (synapses) between different types of neurons. While age-appropriate computer use may help establish some forms of connections, inappropriate use may also build resistant habits that interfere with academic learning.

What kind of connections will our children need most? The widest repertoire possible! A child with lopsided experiences is likely to end up with a lopsided brain. Starting children on computers too early is far worse than starting them too late. For example, a child should be able to understand the cause-effect relationship of moving a mouse or touching a screen to get a reaction before using a computer.

Software Tips

Balance Education and Entertainment

The Real World is Best

Many interesting and appropriate uses of educational computing are already available. The more actively the child uses her mind as she interacts with the technology, the more active the learning habits she will develop.

The wrong kind of activities, however, may subtract from playing, imagining and learning to focus the mind internally, as well as from creativity and motivation. When using computers, children passively experience - rather than coordinate and integrate - sound, movement and visual imagery, active processes that may prove to be irreplaceable. Too much virtual life can bypass critical experiences and result in lasting handicaps. In fact, too many computer games may make a child prone to depression or affect the immune system. Thinking and feeling are irrevocably linked.

The best multimedia, interactive environment is still the real world. Rather than expose kids to artificial minds that possess no human values or common sense, offer them the squishiness of mud pies, the scent of peppermint extract, and the feel of balancing a block at the top of a tower. The adult world comes all too soon.

[(Excerpted from FAILURE TO CONNECT: How Computers Affect Our Children‘s Minds -- and What We Can Do About Itthe author‘s book of the same name. Article initially published in New Developments: Volume 5, Number 4 - Spring, 2000]

All material in this web site is given for information purposes only and is not to be substituted for advice from your health care provider.

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Page last modified: February 23, 2009
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