So where’s the push back? In December 2015, scientist Robert Sherrer reflected on the endless, empty summer days when he was a youth; a time when kids daydreamed, explored their neighborhood and invented games. Where do kids today find the time to daydream, when they can be playing computer games instead? Modern children, he says, are deprived of the key ingredient that develops a scientific attitude; “boredom, and lots of it.” Robert Sherrer, “How to Raise a Scientist in the Xbox Age,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 22, 2015.
Will the pendulum swing the other way? There has been an upsurge in Contemplation Therapy. Recent research shows that subjects who were taught mindfulness meditation with close attention to bodily sensations did better than a control group which was encouraged to chatter and ignore their bodies while their leader cracked jokes. Gretchen Reynolds, “Contemplation Therapy,” New York Times Magazine, Feb. 21, 2016. Wow, chatter and ignore their bodies? Reminds me of the drivers who are texting as they go merrily along their way –– and endangering all of us!
The Waldorf Schools are prohibiting the use of electronic gadgets at home as well as in school, and teachers claim they can spot the negative effects immediately when their students have been using electronic media at home. Harvard Educational Letter, Vol. 27, Number 6, December, 2011.
In Germany, children as young as three are sent to the forest where they sleep in tents, ride horses, pick berries and swing over the water on a rope. According to Jessica Holzer, these German kindergartens are in “Teutonic crash courses in becoming independent with minimal allowances for the tender age of participants.” Jessica Holzer, “Kindergarten Campouts Test Helicopter Parents,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 29, 2015. Sooner or later, we always get a backlash to any movement, but this is an extreme one and will make Developmental Psychologists and most parents very unhappy.
This is all interesting, but where’s the research? A recent study demonstrated that play with electronic toys is associated with decreased quantity and quality of language input compared with play with books or traditional toys. To promote early language development, play with electronic toys should be discouraged, the researchers concluded. Traditional toys may be a valuable alternative for parent-infant playtime if book reading is not a preferred activity. Anna V. Sosa, JAMA Pediatrics Feb., 2016.
Another study focuses on electronically-enhanced toys and the impact on parent-child interactions. This was prompted by other recent evidence that a rich variety of parent-child interactions has long-term effects on areas of cognition and learning. The study compared the quantity and quality of the language children learned during play with either a traditional non-electronic toy or an electronic shape-sorter toy, to teach geometric shapes. The conclusion of the study was that traditional toys prompted more parental spatial language and more varied overall language than electronic toys. Jennifer Mzosh, et.al, Mind Brain and Education Volume 9, Issue 3, September 2015.
So what’s really new? Not much. Research will continue to show the many dangers associated with excessive use of technology, but our dependence on it will probably grow. We may have fewer innovative scientists and creative people on the whole, but rote coursework may not be affected. Schools will continue to spend big bucks on the “latest” electronic products. And, as is often the case, educated and motivated parents will protect their kids from excessive use of technology and show them how to benefit from its effective use.