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Effects of TV, computer games, and smartphones on children

Today, children spend most of their day indoors and their playing partner is usually a computer or a television. It might seem there is not much wrong with that. At least we know where our children are – in front of the screen they are safe from the world’s dangers.

Today, children spend most of their day indoors and their playing partner is usually a computer or a television. It might seem there is not much wrong with that. At least we know where our children are – in front of the screen they are safe from the world’s dangers.

I have been living out of my home country, the Czech Republic, for more than seven years now and I like to go back time to time. One of the things I enjoy when I am there is to walk around familiar streets noticing changes that took place during my absence. Trees and bushes get bigger, house façades change colours, old shops disappear and new ones appear.

Children’s needs – physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual – should be well balanced and equally nourished

But there is another shift I am noticing that is much more profound and I believe it is having a greater impact and will have longer lasting consequences on our lives than the building of a new shopping mall.

The shift I am talking about has been taking place in recent years not only in the Czech Republic but all across the globe. There is an absence of children in the streets, children playing freely and happily together.

As a child, I played outside with my friends every day. I can remember that back then I enjoyed it very much, and now as a grown-up I can say with certainty that this play activity contributed to my healthy maturing as a social being and to my creative ability.

To be completely honest, it wasn’t always pleasant – there were arguments, sometimes tears. But despite that, it was a lot of fun. I made some of my first friendships which grew and strengthened day by day. Those relationships were real and an instant feedback was always there – we served as mirrors to each other.

If I cheated in a game, my playmates would let me know, for sure! And when I shared my cookies, I had a chance to play with my friend’s hamster. From older girls I learned tricks with a skipping rope and I showed my younger friend how to make a daisy chain. We told each other stories and organised singing contests. Thanks to our mutual social exchange, we learned a great deal.

The present reality is different from what my generation experienced. Today, children spend most of their day indoors and their playing partner is usually a computer or a television.

It might seem there is not much wrong with that. At least we know where our children are – in front of the screen they are safe from the world’s dangers. And they are so ‘good’ while immersed in a computer game – focused, concentrated, quiet...

Medias are adding in, chanting their advertising mantras to sell us products with popular slogans: ‘educational’, ‘improving children’s capacities’ and ‘teaching new necessary skills’. It is shocking that 72 per cent of iTunes top-selling education apps are designed for pre-school and elementary school children. But in most cases, these ‘educational’ programmes only create a screen addiction in early age.

When we take a close look at what is happening when children spend their time in front of the screen, we clearly see that:

1. The children are not moving (as opposed to their natural state, which is constant fluid movement);

2. The children are not creating their own mental pictures (as opposed to what happens during creative play or during story-telling);

3. The children are not engaged in real live experience (this only occurs when children interact with their living surroundings).

Children need three-dimensional first-hand engagement. This is not only what maximises their learning but this also greatly contributes to children’s wholesome experience of the world. Children learn best through loving relationships, through imaginative play and through hands-on experiences with elements and materials.

The way children spend their free time has changed drastically in recent years, but it is still a true fact that children all over the world and throughout time need to play, need human interaction and direct contact with nature.

A lot of the time children spend with screens takes time away from activities we know they need for their healthy growth and development.

Learning in the early years should be active on all levels, and children’s needs – physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual – should be well balanced and equally nourished. As educators and human beings capable of love and compassion we owe it to our children to teach them how to live fully in the real world.

By organising play dates, by taking part in community events, by telling our child a bedtime story and by going as a whole family for a walk in the countryside, we are creating such learning opportunities for our children.

If these ideas resonate with you or if you are interested in offering this type of education for your children, e-mail alternative [email protected].

Lenka Borankova is a Waldorf kindergarten teacher and early years educator.

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