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Computers Damage Brains of Young Children


Despite the push by many parents, educators, and others to introduce computers to children at a very young age, a leading psychologist is urging schools to prevent children younger than nine from using them. Psychologist Dr. Aric Sigman says the technology damages the under-developed brains of young children.

Sigman, who spoke at a recent conference of childcare specialists in the United Kingdom, noted that rules introduced in the UK in 2008 that recommend children as young as 22 months start using a computer were “subverting the development of children’s cognitive skills,” according to an article in Times of India.

Sigman is not the first expert to say computer use by young children can be damaging. Susan Greenfield, a noted Oxford University neuroscientists and director of the Royal Institution, reported last year that repeated exposure of young children to social networks on the Internet could “rewire” the brain.

“My fear is that these technologies are infantalising the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment,” she said. Greenfield has noticed a sharp decline in the ability of her students to understand others.

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Other potentially damaging effects from computer use by young children have been raised by other experts. An Australian study published in Ergonomics in 2009 pointed out that such negative effects include inappropriate content, exposure to violence, bullying, threats to child safety, tendency to exercise less, exposure to junk food advertising, sleep disorders, vision problems, and musculoskeletal problems.

An earlier study published in Child: Care, Health and Development also raised concerns over the social, physical, visual, and cognitive impact of computers on young children. The researchers analyzed computer use among 1,600 five-year-old children and found that it was related to other sedentary activities, less vigorous activity, and that “the sedentary nature of computer use is of public health concern.”

In the United Kingdom, primary school children have at least one information and communication technology lesson each week, and computer use among young children is widespread. Sigman is quoted in a News.com.au report as saying “there is evidence to show that introducing information and communication technology (ICT) in the early years actually subverts the very skills that government ministers said they want children to develop, such as the ability to pay attention for sustained periods.”

There is also evidence that it is beneficial to introduce young children to computers, suggesting that it helps social development, learning abilities, and language skills. Sigman explains, however, that although exposure to computers can help children learn, he advocates introducing them at a later age, by no earlier than age nine. Otherwise he believes it can damage the brain and “subvert the development of the cognitive skills and curiosity it was intended to foster and enhance.”

Daily Mail, February 24, 2009
Times of India, June 21, 2010
Straker L, et al. Ergonomics 2009 Nov; 52(11): 1386-401
Straker LM et al. Child: Care, Health and Development 2006 May; 32(3): 343-51