A few weeks ago, in an article called ‘Future-proof children', we talked about five key skills that will be particularly valued in tomorrow’s world. One of those skills was digital literacy – being comfortable working with computers, both for basic word processing and more complicated programming activities.
While digital literacy is certainly the ‘coming man’ of education, it also raises the thorny issue of screen time during childhood. Chances are that your parents attempted to limit your time in front of the screen, and that you do the same. But there have never been more screens for children to choose from! Televisions, computers, tablets, smartphones – all competing for attention, often at the expense of time spent at play. How comfortable should we be with this shift?
A Professor's concern
Dr Aric Sigman, whose paper on screen time was published by the British Medical Association, has medical concerns about the amount of time children spend in front of television or computer screens. He estimates that, by age 7, the average child will have spent a whole year of 24-hour days in front of a screen. Throughout their whole childhood, he claims children will spend longer in front of a screen than they will at school. He fears that “early screen viewing is likely to lead to long periods of viewing for the rest of your life,” suggesting that it can become addictive.
The real face time
Then there’s the social dynamic. A recent study carried out at UCLA in America found that regular access to computers, televisions and smartphones had a harmful effect on children’s ability to read human emotion. Patricia Greenfield, one of the report’s authors, said: “We need to be sure that children are getting enough face-to-face interaction to be competent social beings. If we reduce face-to-face interaction, it's not surprising that social skills also get reduced.”
The genius of play
So from a medical and social point of view, prioritising screen time has significant disadvantages. There’s a compelling academic argument, too. According to research cited in a recent article in the Telegraph, playing with toys like building blocks and jigsaws leaves children “better equipped to deal with problems from maths to map-reading.” It also improves cognitive skills, spatial awareness, and performance in the ‘stem subjects’ – science, technology, and maths.
What should we conclude from all this? In the great balancing act of raising children, let’s not prioritise ‘screen media’ at the expense of good old-fashioned play! As games inventors we’re obviously a bit biased, but research suggests – and our experience confirms – that play hones the social skills, fires the imagination, taxes the brain and exercises the body. And it’s great fun! English, French or Java Script – that’s good news in any language.