How Technology Impacts Developing Children
By Tanya Jacobs
The Way Technology Impacts A Child’s Focus
Thinking is one of the few ways that humanity was able to break away from the animal kingdom and establish itself as the dominant life forms on the planet. Our ability to reason, reflect, and draw conclusions based on knowledge, insights, and experience is a truly invaluable gift that many of us take for granted. It’s the reason that we’ve been able to develop our incredible technologies, build civilisations, and even send people into space.
The way we think, and reason is learnt when we are children; the blueprints that will develop into the methods we use to work through problems later in life are set in stone and determined how our minds are shaped when we are young.
For thousands of years, there were two main forms of learning: reading and being taught. These are what has shaped all the generations that came before the Millennials – but with the invention of the internet, computers, and smart phones, experts are starting to see a radical shift in the way that children learn, how they focus, and how long they are able to maintain their attention of a given topic.
Right now, we aren’t sure just how much technology has changed the way that children learn, and it’s too early to determine whether it’s wholly good or wholly bad, but we are starting to see some cognitive adaptations since the dawn of modern technology. And just about every industry has an impact on how we learn, from the video games we enjoy to the ways we pay for goods and services and the online slots that we play in Australia.
The Good with The Bad
For the most part, we’ve come to understand that technology in a child’s life is a negative thing; it’s become a common complaint of modern parents that their children spend too much time in front of their computers and smartphones rather than outside.
But there’s a growing body of research that shows that technology may have a profoundly positive effect on the ways in which children think. As the brain is still extremely malleable when children are young, technology is actually rewiring the entire thought process in ways that are completely different to how the previous generations developed.
Technology writer Nicholas Carr has observed, for example, that because much of the internet is still text-based, children are reading more than ever, which stimulates both focus and imagination, which is why we’ve seen a massive surge in the online art and creative writing within the last few years.
He has also discovered that the internet has strengthened our ability to scan information efficiently and rapidly.
But perhaps the largest part of the children’s mind that is impacted by technology is their attention.
Attention is seen by experts as a person’s gateway to thinking. It’s required for all forms of thinking, including language, memory, learning, creativity, reasoning, perception, problem solving, and many more. The way that a person learns and grows is through how well a subject that hold on to their attention as they develop – which makes it an extremely important part of the developmental process.
It’s also a highly malleable quality that is most directly influenced by the surrounding environment. Selective attention is not only found in humans, but throughout the animal kingdom. For example, wolves, tigers, lions, and other predators have highly developed visual attention that allows them to track and hunt their prey. On the flip side, prey animals have highly developed auditory attention, allowing them to keep an ear out for any potential predators in the immediate vicinity. Both these forms of attention were developed depending on the environment that the animal grew up in. If an antelope, for example, was born and raised in a zoo, their auditory attention would be far less developed than that of the same species born in the wild.
And this applies to human beings, too. In the past, children directed considerable amounts of their attention to reading, as this was a primary source of both learning and entertainment. It’s an activity that offered very few distractions, and required sustained attention, memory, and imagination. The invention of the television drastically altered sustained attention, making people far more likely to lose interest and move on.
But with modern smartphones and the internet, the way our attention is focused is extremely different. Recall, faster completion, and understanding are some advantages and by-products of a person that was born alongside the technological boom. Educational videos also have a profound effect on how a child learns; with the consensus being that video is a brilliant format for developing strong learning abilities. This doesn’t mean that technology has its downsides.
The Google Condition, for example, is where the brain doesn’t feel the need to retain as much information when it’s all readily available through a quick search. But this is one factor in an otherwise extremely complicated field of study, and for now, our relationship with technology is both a positive and negative at the same time.