In this day and age with all the advancements in technology are children losing their childhood?
To gain thoughtful insight into the loss of childhood due to advancing technology it’s best to begin with clarifying questions. What is childhood? What do we believe or expect a child will learn during childhood? What is the purpose of technology during childhood? Is it being used to babysit, amuse, silence, teach? How frequently are children using it? Is technology necessary during childhood? What do children need during childhood? What are optimal experiences for childhood?
Childhood is the developmental period between birth and adolescence. It’s roughly the first 20 years of a person’s life. Jean Piaget, a Swiss clinical psychologist, known for his pioneering work in child development named the experiences of childhood by stages of development. The stages are Sensorimotor (ages birth to 2 Years), Preoperational (ages 2 to 7), Concrete Operational (ages 7 to 11), and Formal Operational (12 and Up).
Since childhood is substantial and varied, this article will focus on Piaget’s Preoperational Stage of Development (ages 2 to 7) and its relationship to technology.
Very Well, a sight that provides American board certified medical information, describes Piaget’s Preoperational Stage as –
“Ages: 2 to 7 Years
Major Characteristics and Developmental Changes:
- Children begin to think symbolically and learn to use words and pictures to represent objects.
- Children at this stage tend to be egocentric and struggle to see things from the perspective of others.
- While they are getting better with language and thinking, they still tend to think about things in very concrete terms.
The foundations of language development may have been laid during the previous stage, but it is the emergence of language that is one of the major hallmarks of the preoperational stage of development. Children become much more skilled at pretend play during this stage of development, yet still think very concretely about the world around them.
At this stage, kids learn through pretend play but still struggle with logic and taking the point of view of other people. They also often struggle with understanding the idea of constancy. For example, a researcher might take a lump of clay, divide it into two equal pieces, and then give a child the choice between two pieces of clay to play with. One piece of clay is rolled into a compact ball while the other is smashed into a flat pancake shape. Since the flat shape looks larger, the preoperational child will likely choose that piece even though the two pieces are the same size.”
Language emergence and pretend play are at the center of a preoperational stage (ages 2-7) childhood. As a care taker for a preoperational stage child effective decision making based on child development research supplies the foundation for optimal development.
Authentic language develops in natural situations. While grocery shopping an adult may show a child an orange. Then naturally repeat the word orange in a conversation while shopping. For example, weaving into a conversation statements and questions like, “This is an orange.,” Can you hold the orange?”, “Is the orange hard or soft.” “How does the orange feel?”, “Smell the orange.”,” Do you like the smell of the orange?”, “How does the orange smell?” The repetition builds the vocabulary and the conversation creates human connection thru a shared common experience.
While apps and games ask a child to identify items that are colored orange or shaped like an orange assist in developing language the interaction with the technology is artificial. It isn’t a rich teaching moment as experiencing the orange thru senses while having a validating and supportive conversation with a loving caregiver.
Play, the other dominant feature of the preoperational stage is widely misunderstood. The dictionary defines play as – engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. This definition of play paves the way for misconceptions about learning for preoperational learners.
In childhood, play, the physical and mental interaction with people, structures, and objects that heighten imagination, is the ultimate arena for development. Parenting Science lists some of play’s enriching outcomes.
– Improves memory and stimulates the growth of the cerebral cortex
– Triggers the secretion of BDNF, a substance essential for the growth of brain cells
– Activates attention to academic tasks when children are given frequent, brief opportunities for free play
– Improves Receptive and Expressive Language
– Promotes creative problem solving
– Supports self-regulation, and reasoning about possible worlds
Play is vital and an indispensable foundation of childhood! With a play rich childhood, a child naturally improves their brain, academic experience, social relationships, and inner relationship. Confucius explains play best in this ancient saying,
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
Based on Piaget’s science and the necessary creation of Preoperational Stage foundations, a child would be losing the gifts and growth of their childhood if technology was at the center of their learning.
For reading on child development see: