My Opinion – Childhood Development & The Digital Era

This morning, I read with interest, a Face Book feed about whether or not to invest in a Leappad for a child.  Most of the debate was around the purchase of a Leappad versus an iPad. But there was one comment that caught my attention and if I’m honest, put my back up and irritated me:

I don’t know if my opinion is because of my OT or child development background or what , but I have strong opinions that kids should be outside climbing trees, getting dirty, doing jigsaw puzzles etc rather than using electronic gadgets like leappad or iPad. Research also shows that kids who spend more time in front of screens (phones,TV or computers) have been shown to have increased rates of ADD and depression. I can’t remember the exact amount, but its something like 2 hours a day. Let your kids use their imagination and play. There’ll be plenty of time when they’re older to use these gadgets



Those of you who have been reading The Blessed Barrenness for a while will know that I work in the gaming industry, for the largest importer and distributor of games into the South African market. Gaming is my industry and it has been going on almost 8 years now.  I’ve previously written about the advantages of video game playing for children, and the same logic would apply to the use of iPad’s and Leappad’s.

Just a few of the advantages include:

  • teaching problem solving skills
  • game dependant – inspiring an interest in history and culture
  • Improved social development & ability to make friends because contrary to the belief that video games are an isolating activity, they enhance social activity giving kids common grounds and interests to talk/share about
  • sporting games can encourage exercise  because players will want to try out the new basketball/skateboard (insert sport name here) on their own
  • they encourage leadership skills & the ability to work together to solve problems
  • they bring parents & children together for time spent playing together

Of course, the key with any of these activities, whether it be video games, Leappad’s or iPads & tablets is that the screen time should be moderated and any half intelligent parent will know this without needing an expert opinion. We all know that leaving our child to sit in front of a TV or other electronic gadget for 8 hours a day is not good for them or their development.

I think what irritated me most about the comment that was made was that it was unrealistic. Of course children should be running outside, getting dirty, riding bikes and climbing tree’s but realistically, that is not possible for every waking hour of every day. Our tablet/Leappad/gadget collection have proven to be our saving grace during long car journey’s, on flights, on cold rainy days or even simply when I need half an hour to throw supper together and I don’t want to leave my 2 and a half year old running unsupervised by herself outside – that, in my mind would be irresponsible parenting.

Ava does not have unlimited access to her Leappad or my tablet. There is a time and a place for it’s use and when it’s not appropriate, those items are packed away and easily forgotten by her because ultimately she is just a child and would always prefer to be running outside, climbing the jungle gym or jumping on her trampoline.

The fact remains, regardless of one’s opinions on all these gadgets, that we live in a digital era and by banning these items completely from a child’s life are we not setting them back in their expected development? There are school’s which now require that Grade 1 pupils have their own iPad’s for goodness sakes. So by preventing your child from having limited access any technology related activity, ultimately,  are you not putting them at a disadvantage when they start school?

I have seen first hand with Ava’s development, how her access to technology has improved both her gross motor skill development and her intellectual development. She can operate a touch screen better than most adults, can recognize familiar buttons with ease and knows how to find the app’s and games she wants to play by herself.  Her problem solving skills and logic are excellent and she is able to build puzzles designed for much older children, all of this comes from regular but limited access to technology based gadgets like her Leappad and our tablets, her favourite app’s include puzzle building and numbers with simple arithmetic. She also loves taking photographs of anything and everything and all of this is attributed to the use of her Leappad and our gadgets.

My parenting philosophy has and will remain  everything in moderation and in practice we do the same with her screen time and use of technology.

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  • Reply Tracey

    Sharon, I agree with you completely. We are living in a day and age where technology is our bread and butter. I feel it is my responsibility to make sure my children are kept in touch with the technology , where ever possible. To me it is equivalent to sending him to school everyday. The more in touch he is with technology, the better it will be for him later on in life.

    Least I want is for my child to be left behind by society and the generation, because I did not keep him upto date on whats new

    Although everything with in limits of course, as you say!

    September 5, 2012 at 11:45 am
  • Reply Daryl Faure

    Great post Sharon. We have neither IPAD or Leappad, but I am seriously considering investing in one or the other for the reasons you mentioned. Which do you recommend for a little one, and parents with limited finances?

    September 5, 2012 at 12:47 pm
  • Reply TJ

    Love this post! I fully agree on your stance. I see no harm in the controlled use of digital devices by our children, no matter how young. Both my boys were able to slide pictures on my iPhone by age 1. There are so many useful apps for kids these days.

    I think parents that don’t keep up with technology and allowing their children access are only putting their children at a disadvantage. This all goes back to my post on “Not the 1970’s”. Our way of parenting is so different and it’s important we do advance with technology while keeping our children’s childhood in tact.

    Having a boy with dyspraxia and low muscle tone, I am more aware that he may be better off using a computer later on than writing. Not to mention the major benefits technology has for those suffering with dyslexia, autism, and other difficulties.

    It’s easy to look down upon our digital era without realising it’s full potential – just because we see it as ‘screen’ time!

    This is a case where I wish more parents would educate themselves and research better before forming an opinion.

    September 5, 2012 at 1:10 pm
  • Reply Denise

    This is a toughie for me because in my heart I completely agree with comment you copied – children SHOULD be outside playing and climbing and using their imaginations etc.

    However, I do have loads of apps on my ipad and my 4 yo boy is an absolute whizz on them, I severely restrict the time he has on ipad mostly so that it is a treat and I can pull it out at opportune moments like a late meal at a restaurant or if we are in an adult situation that requires quiet kids!

    He also has some issues and I’ve heard that when it comes to reading boys learn to read much faster using technology…

    My heart says climb a tree but my head says we’re in the 21st century and you need to keep up or lose out 🙁

    September 5, 2012 at 2:45 pm
  • Reply Tracy

    Such an interesting post and very timeous for me. We have just bought our boys a Leappad (for the 3 almost 4 year-old) and a Coby tablet (for the 8 year-old) for their birthdays. We did a lot of research before we bought these “koupters” (as the little one calls them) and we feel they are the most age-appropriate for the two of them. The older one does computers at school and the tablet is helping him with that. We have a no-TV on school night policy and that is extended to their new gadgets – now it’s a no-screen time on week nights policy. Except when we read a book at Oxford Owls as a bedtime story (awesome website with the books and activities that my older son is learning to read with at school). They will play with the gadgets in the car on the weekends but once we get home they are more interested in jumping on the trampoline or playing soccer in the garden. As you say, it’s all a case of balance.

    I had to laugh at your description of Ava taking photos. Our little one does the same and is for ever bossing everyone around so he can take photos of them.

    BTW, what games/apps would you recommend for the Leappad for a 4-year-old boy? He has Pixar Pals and is very interested in getting the Cars games. He loves the drawing tool and likes anything with music that he can dance to. And, can you put anything other than Leappad apps on the device? I’m thinking along the lines of children’s ebooks and the like.

    September 5, 2012 at 4:53 pm
    • Reply GAIL

      Tracy, have a look at under the LeapFrog tab. All the cartridge games/eBooks available in SA are listed there. Unfortunately only LeapFrog branded games and eBooks can be used on the device but there are a reasonable selection of eBooks, both on cartridge and available for download (with the app card). There is in fact a Cars 2 eBook available. The Crayola game and Mr Pencil are great if he likes to draw.

      September 5, 2012 at 10:56 pm
      • Reply Tracy

        Thanks, that’s very helpful.

        September 6, 2012 at 3:56 am
  • Reply Kate

    So agree with you, we have a long flight to the UK looming over Christmas so now a LeapPad is def on the list 🙂

    September 5, 2012 at 5:37 pm
  • Reply Laura

    I am also kinda torn on this issue – we have an xbox and a ds and an iPad so technology has won in many ways BUT I also moderate it and we do force them to be outside or doing other stuff. Kiara isn’t really interested but Cameron is a geek BUT also a sport loving geek so he is outdoors a lot.

    What worries me is that they get so involved in something that isn’t real – there is no social interaction if that makes sense – it is so easy for them to get caught up in their games etc (obviously this comes from my experience with my older kids)

    September 5, 2012 at 8:20 pm
  • Reply Tracy

    Thanks, that’s very helpful!

    September 6, 2012 at 3:55 am
    • Reply Tracy

      Sorry, my previous comment was meant to be for Gail.

      September 6, 2012 at 3:58 am
  • Reply Maggie

    Loved this post. As always, your writing just drips with common-sense, Sharon. At this stage of the game, kids not exposed to technology are going to be at such a disadvantage to their peers. Moderation being key, as you said.

    September 6, 2012 at 2:36 pm
  • Reply Julia

    I am on the fence with this one. I agree with and see both sides of this argument. Having said that, I do believe that it’s a matter of balance. And yes, people are always saying that kids need to be running outside etc but what about the kids who read? Are they getting any exercise reading a book? I do believe that kids need to be outside and using all their limbs etc but guess what? BOTH my kids did this and they STILL need OT and other therapies. My DH is a gamer so my kids have always been exposed to this. Child2 couldn’t care less, Child1 LOVES it and I use often use this as a tool for incentives. I do love that Child1 and my DH can share this – quite frankly it doesn’t do ANYTHING for me. Cool post.

    September 10, 2012 at 8:50 pm
  • Reply Lisa-Marie

    I see the ‘crappy’ side of gaming, where there is no balance. My nephews all come to my parents’ house with their handhelds and they sit next to each other on the couch, playing games; lost in their own little worlds. No communication. This goes on for hours – particularly on a rainy day. I think in all the times we’ve had family gatherings, I’ve seen them play outside maybe 10 times, at a push.

    Having said that – I have to agree that some of these games DO have certain advantages that cannot be denied. Hand eye co-ordination, problem solving, etc.

    I remember you telling me a while ago that it’s all about finding the right balance and limiting time spent on these gadgets. I’m not against them, I’m against how they are “managed”.

    I am ALSO against the fact that some of the games are HORRENDOUS and greater care should be taken when exposing children to them. You should see some of the games my nephews have… Ugh!

    September 11, 2012 at 9:16 am
  • Reply Nikki Heyman

    I am sorry I missed this post – my sentiments exactly. My very first blog post was “Why are so many children having speech therapy?” My quest at the moment is to marry technology and education. Sharon please send me your email – I am doing an event on Apps and language development and would love you to be there.

    October 5, 2012 at 8:55 am
  • Reply Dan

    I’ll disagree with whoever made the statement that children who watch more TV have higher rates of ADD, implying the former causes the latter, because no research exists demonstrating this. The only research that does exist found a correlation which anti-media types like to misrepresent as demonstrating some sort of causative link.

    However your list of benefits of electronic games is of course also quite disingenuous. Children get all of those things from normal play, the real world, interacting with real people and physical games. I agree there is no harm in moderate exposure, but not that there would be any harm in them having no access to such things while still young. Furthermore for advocacy you should at least have an honest set of benefits that are entirely unique to electronic devices.

    November 22, 2013 at 6:54 am
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