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Kids Learn Tech Skills Before Life Skills

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Did you happen to see the new study which was just released by software maker AVG Technologies?  The company solicited 2,200 mothers to answer a survey looking at skills their children have; riding a bike or tying a shoe as well as those very important early childhood skills such as how to use an iPad or Smartphone!

While 21% of 4-5 year olds knew how to use a Smartphone or iPad application, only 14% of those same kids could tie their shoes. For children 2-5 years, 69% could operate a computer mouse, 58% could play a computer game but only 52% knew how to ride a bike (I am assuming that means pedaling a tricycle or a bike with training wheels for that age?). Seems incredible to me that more kids have computers than tricycles?  Also, 25% of 2-5 yr olds could open a Web browser, only 20% knew how to swim.  Technology is definitely changing the world, but is it all beneficial?

The CEO of AVG Technologies commissioned the survey to show how young children are interacting with technology. He emphasized that parents need to be educating their young children about their online world and need to be promoting internet/online safety at very young ages.

It used to be “when do I have the sex talk” now it is being replaced with ”how soon do I need to talk about online safety and technology?”. Obviously, if one looks at this study, the latter needs to come much sooner than one might think.   If you don’t teach children online safety early on, they might just find “the sex talk” online anyway, even before they can perform some very basic life skills like writing their own name.

But the most disturbing aspect of this study is that it suggests that our children are way too wired and may be missing out on simple, yet important life skills. I myself have seen many a two year old open their parent’s iPad and turn on a movie while in the exam room.   They can recognize different icons and switch between applications but are not yet capable of talking in complete sentences. Some of these children are the same ones who at two years are not yet putting themselves to sleep at night, cannot sleep through the night and still have a bottle or pacifier!  Some parents are convinced that their child may not be capable of mastering these normal developmental milestones, while at the same time are thrilled about their child’s computer skills. Seems a little mixed up to me. Priorities sometimes get confused.

As I have discussed many times before, it is important for children to have time to explore, create and use their imagination, without the benefit of constant technology.  I can remember when Velcro tennis shoes came out and our boys wanted those shoes. But, before succumbing to Velcro we felt it was important to learn to tie a shoe. Once that skill was mastered, Velcro shoes became a favorite, even if just for a while. Of course, as with many things, the Velcro lost its allure and they were back to tying shoes by middle school.  The basics have staying power.

Technology is important and will continue to be so, but what if the computer is “down” and you need to write a story with pencil and paper, or draw a picture without the benefit of a computer screen.

There are certainly many life skills to be mastered, the list is too long. What about pumping a swing, jumping rope, playing ball, and just being a kid.  The race to teach kids technology and to help them compete in our constantly “wired” world may be detrimental to a child’s physical and emotional health. We as parents need to remember to “turn off the technology” and get back to basics. There is time for both.

What do you think? Leave your comments below.

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