In the world today, one of the issues that we have to deal
with is the use of computers. Some people live in communities
where there is no 'issue' with computers, as they are simply
not used. Others live in places where their use is more
common. There has been a lot of concern over the content of
what people (especially, though not exclusively, children)
might be looking at on the computer, and the risks of the
Internet in making it possible to access very inappropriate
However, there can be problems that arise from the use of
computers that are entirely independent of any problematic
content. Problems can arise even when using programs that are
basically 'harmless,' or even educational, or religious in
nature. Problems arise particularly, though not solely, with
games, including hand-held devices. This is not to say that
their use has to be excluded completely, because in some
places these things are so endemic that exclusion is often
not a viable option, but if we are more aware of potential
pitfalls, it is easier recognize them and thereby to prevent
falling into them.
* The first potential hazard, and one of the most difficult
to deal with, is the problem of addiction. This is when a
child (or anyone) starts to spend an inordinate amount of
time on the computer, to the detriment of other activities,
like sleeping, eating, friends, playing other games, homework
etc. Again, the content of the activity is not the question
here (obviously, violent or immodest games should be
forbidden), it is the sense of compulsion the child has, and
the amount of time and energy he uses on the activity.
When parents try to limit his use, at this point, the child
will often make life unbearable (as it feels to him that this
denial makes his life unbearable). The child might find ways
to go to a friend's house to use their computer (often lying
about where he is and what he is doing). Then parents might
have to worry (depending on the friend) not only about the
time/addiction element, but also about the content. Addiction
is not a simple matter, as it feels to the child as if he has
no control, and that he needs this activity. This is the
nature of a compulsion.
Therefore, regular discipline methods will often not work,
and more individually tailored advice is necessary. This will
take into account the age, nature and gender of the child,
the degree of addiction, the possibilities of the child going
elsewhere, other discipline issues that might exist, and the
existing nature of the relationship between the parents and
their child. Going 'cold turkey' and banning outright the use
of the computer at this point will often not be a helpful
The reason that addiction can occur is because computers
are very stimulating. There is an instant response to
anything the child does, often accompanied by color, movement
and sound effects. Also, the computer is very non-judgmental,
and one can try again and again to achieve a higher score and
receive no criticism for the failure, and a real buzz when a
new high score is achieved.
A weak child will find the very non-judgmental and private
nature of the computer very comforting, and a marked
difference from all his other learning activities. A very
intelligent child, who finds little in his school life that
is either stimulating or difficult, will discover the
computer provides him with a real test. The 'high' the child
gets from this level of stimulation and challenge can become
Besides addiction, the stimulation the computer offers causes
other difficulties. Although a child may get very excited and
have a focused interest in whatever is going on on the
screen, the activity is essentially a passive one. If a
normally active child sits bound by the visual/mental
stimulation of the computer, then he will not get rid of his
very real physical energy.
If he has been using a game which is very exciting and
involves a lot of on-screen physical action, then those parts
of the brain will have become active during the game, and
adrenaline will be released into his bloodstream, but no
corresponding muscle activity will occur. He may therefore
find it difficult to relax after a game or fall asleep.
At school, he will be tired and find it harder to control his
impulses. As he has a lot of excess energy to expend, and
because the learning at school will not provide any of the
intensity and emotional 'highs' of his computer experience,
he can become 'edgy.' Often this makes him a 'behavioral
problem' at school, being labelled 'hyper.' Back on the
computer, however, he will 'calm down,' and we will be amazed
to see how focused and enthusiastic he can become.
A child who uses this stimulating medium often finds the
traditional black and white letters on a page type of
learning particularly boring in comparison.
One could question the difference between the addiction to
computers and the same compulsion children develop over other
hobbies, or even reading, when you find children who seem to
do little else. Of course, any activity that absorbs such a
lot of a child's interests that it causes serious detriment,
should be looked at.
If we find that these children, despite their interest or
hobby, function well at school, and are generally content,
then one need not be worried. The difference we see with
computers is the 'driven' nature of the activity, and the
fact that often the children are falling behind and/or are
basically unhappy with themselves, and are getting a 'high'
from the computer.
This has a lot to do with how the brain is stimulated by
computers, as opposed to how reading stimulates the brain.
Even deep involvement in a very exciting story involves the
active engagement of the child's imagination, whereas on-
screen excitement is passive, by-passing the imagination and
activating significantly different brain areas.
Even using computers for work-related activities carries its
share of disadvantages. It may be so much more beautiful to
put up typed work on school walls, and we have generally
become intolerant of work that is not well 'processed.'
However, for a young child to type instead of write means he
loses out on the development of essential skills.
Writing develops more skills than neat handwriting. When
writing, a child develops some perceptual skills. For example
learning about size (creating letters of uniform size, and
fitting on the line), constancy (keeping letters looking the
same, not mixing higher/lower case), spatial awareness
(keeping letters of one word together, whilst making uniform
gaps between words, keeping words straight on a line). They
must also think carefully about content and spelling as
This is multitasking at its best. It's coordination; it is
attention to detail. The computer is very appealing to those
children who find all this particularly challenging. However,
it is just those children who benefit most from doing it the
old-fashioned way, at least in the formative years. Of
course, I'm using a computer now, and this allows me to get
my thoughts down without having to worry unduly about errors,
as I can always edit it later. But once the brain has fully
matured, then computers help us get on with our lives without
being held back by our limitations. But when the brain is
developing, their overuse can limit development.
Computers are excellent at mimicking learning because they
hold the attention, but these 'educational' games allow very
little hard wiring to occur in the brain. Although the child
uses the mouse or presses the keys, this has limited use for
the development of hand-eye coordination, which is so
essential. To gain this, they need to move real objects in a
three-dimensional real world, including moving a pencil
across the paper. For example, the ability to move the mouse
to drop a picture of a ball on the screen into a bucket on
the screen will not enable the child to throw a ball into a
bucket, or thread beads on a string, or use a pencil more
When someone is showing photos to you, have you ever felt
that you need to hold them? We feel, though it doesn't make
sense, that we can't see it properly unless we can touch it.
Seeing it in the other person's hand just doesn't 'do' it for
us, and it doesn't do it for the kids either. It's the same
idea as when people often say they can't hear a speaker well
if they can't see the speaker.
Some special needs children can benefit greatly from
computers, for exactly the same reasons, they are not good
for other children. Because they are very stimulating, hold
the attention, are extremely patient, very re-enforcing and
Computers are a very powerful tool, which when used in the
right forum, can help us a lot. But they are greatly overused
and over-rated in the education of children. If you are
letting a child use the computer, let him play on the
graphics feature, or the word-processor, or games like
solitaire or Tetris (if you don't know, then don't ask!). If
they are already busy with other games, then watch how much
time they are spending and how stimulating the game.
Teachers have already passed down their verdict on how
detrimental it is for a child to have these particularly
stimulating pastimes, regardless of the kosher content of the
software. In the end, we would like our kids to want to read,
to enjoy reading, and to learn from reading.
A child who finds reading a challenge, or the very bright and
bored child, can both be at particular risk from over-use of
computers. The fact that computers are good tools for adults
does not make them suitable toys for children. After all, I
don't let my kids play with my oven or my car. And I'm sure
they can learn all the necessary computer skills when they
get older. Of course, in those places where they abound, they
will still be used, but parents should be aware of how much
it's being used and of the potential pitfalls.