Childhood development: hi tech v. books

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 24, 2019

Learning expert Vera Goodman stresses value of books over hi-tech devices for proper childhood mental development and social bonding. Photo supplied

From the many concerned responses I’ve received to our past two columns, digital devices are indeed no substitute for lullabies and books for bonding with our infant children. As Judy Sikorski so well observed in last week’s column: “Our future generations need to nurture from the motherly/fatherly heart, and not from the motherboard of technology!”

I bounced this concern off Calgary-based international reading and learning expert Vera Goodman ( Our longtime coffee companion agreed and responded in some detail, as follows:

I LOVED Warren’s columns on the joy and importance of reading and singing to children.

In many ways, children are under assault. More and more pressure is put on them to perform academically at an early age, while on the other hand we are pulling back from developing the brain in ways that will support these heavy academic programs.

Thinking and communication skills are achieved by interaction and dialogue with others. Singing to babies and young children and dialoguing around a book and other activities are the ways to foster optimum brain development. Discussing everything they see around them is so important. Talk, Talk, Talk!

As a reading and learning expert, I am deeply distressed when I see young eyes glued to an iPad or cell phone. I saw a very young child in an airport with eyes fixed on a colorful cartoon on an iPad built into his stroller. He should have been looking all around and listening to the conversation. I was shocked because hi-tech devices are replacing the dialogue that is absolutely crucial for brain development. iPads are one-way streets that do not result in building the important brain patterns for communication.

Sue Palmer in Toxic Childhood contends that “If the neural pathways that control social and imaginative responses aren't developed in early childhood, it's almost impossible to revive them later. A whole generation could grow up without the mental ability to create their own fun, devise their own games and enjoy real friendships – all because of endless screen-time.”

Few know that the late Apple boss Steve Jobs didn't let his own children have iPads. I wish he’d gone public on this, as other parents might have followed suit. Many programmers in Silicon Valley also don’t allow their children to have these devices.

Neuroscientist Susan Greenfield says: “We cannot park our children in front of screens and expect them to develop a long attention span.”

She also worries about the effects of technology on literacy. “Learning to read helps children learn to put ideas into logical order. On the other hand, staring at a screen puts their brains into suspended animation.” Books can seem boring.

The US Dept. of Health warns that, “The ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s attitudes and communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary – all those abilities are harmed.”

Parents have busy lives and can find it is easy to keep kids occupied with an iPad. But the kids can become addicted so quickly. Let’s be aware of how our children are spending the precious hours of childhood and spend lots of time on cuddles, songs and conversations.

—Vera Goodman,

THANK YOU, VERA. If any of you who would like to correspond directly with Vera over your own concerns, she’d love to hear from you.

© 2019 Warren Harbeck

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