Toddlers on the Net: When should you get your child a PC?
By Jay Chong
February 11, 2000
Children have become the new target of Internet pushers. Parents mesmerised by slick advertising campaigns, and not wanting their kids to be left behind, are taking the bait. But when is it the right time to introduce computers to children? And does the technology really provide them greater opportunities to be creative?
Educators are beginning to question the drive to get children on computers and on the Net at an early age -- even before they can write, spell or do arithmetic. American educational psychologist Jane M Healy, PhD, in her eye-opening book: Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds -- For Better And Worse points out that computers, used in the wrong way, can actually hinder a child's educational development.
With 35 years experience in teaching, Healy, a former tech-pusher, made an about-turn
after three-years of exhaustive research in hundreds of schools across the United
States. According to her findings, children under seven don't really need to be exposed to computers at all as it affects their brains and physical health. "The brain undergoes certain 'critical' or 'sensitive' periods in both childhood and adolescence, when learning environments exert special kinds of effects and when certain types of activities and stimulation are most appropriate and necessary for the brain to reach its potential. If we waste or subvert these developmental windows, the losses may be irrecoverable," writes Healy.
Healy claims that the human brain's structure is malleable at a very young age, and that most children learn about the world from their physical interaction with it. To substitute early, vital sensory experience of the real world with pointing and clicking on a two-dimensional computer screen may seriously impair brain development.
"The immature human brain neither needs nor profits from attempts to 'jump-start' it. Simply selecting and watching a screen is a pallid substitute for real mental activity," she said. Healy suggests that over-enthusiastic parents might just end up with a lot of dribble on their keyboard. Her research shows that children who used computers only after the age of seven picked up the basics quickly and, all other things being equal, did not lag behind their peers who had been clicking away since they were in their diapers.