Screen-tastic

So by the age of seven, according to recent research, most kids would have spent a year of their lives in front of a monitor/TV screen. Sounds about right to me and, unlike the scare-mongering headlines and analysis the story attracted, I can’t say I’m too worried. They’re damaging our kids’ brains. In the words of Rita Fairclough from Coronation Street – oh give over…

Of course, like most parents, I have some days when I despair at just how many times my seven-year-old daughter can watch the same episode of Good Luck Charlie over and over and that she can’t be taking very much in at all when her brain is too clogged with zany witticisms from precocious American teenagers.

And then the other weekend at the breakfast table, she brought up the subject of Charles Darwin. Just like that, out of nowhere. She told us all about him and a discussion ensued all about evolution. She even pronounced Galapagos correctly. Where’s this come from, I thought. My little girl who once loved singing the songs of Balamory now involved in a debate about the origins of mankind. And, of course, the answer is obvious: it’s what she has been learning at school. Part of what she had learned she had looked up on the internet. Incredible really. I was probably nine or 10 when I was given my first half-decent encyclopedia. Maybe it told all a nine or 10 year old needs to know about Charles Darwin, but the point is much more is there for the kids to find out at the touch of a button.

Recently, it’s all been about the Olympics and a few times I’ve found her on the computer tapping out a few sentences about the Olympic flame and searching online for images to paste onto the document, something I struggle with at 38, never mind seven.

And another time there she was, again at the computer, typing in words from a book she has been reading. Nothing too amazing about that. Then I realised the book was in comic strip form and what she was in part doing on screen was putting the speech captions in speech marks, complete with the correct use of punctuation before the closing mark. Believe me, there are people I know in their 20s and 30s unable to do this – many of them journalists or teachers!

Both of my kids in fact had been introduced to computers at playgroup and now use them extensively in school, not to the detriment of reading and writing but certainly way more than the one computer session a week I remember having in the mid-80s when 25-odd kids would take it in turns to use the school’s one and only pride and joy of a BBC computer. By secondary school, my kids and all their peers will be using computers even more regularly. They are everywhere and that’s just the way of the world. When was the last time you signed for something at the door using a normal pen and paper? Exactly.

So, far from being worried that kids aged seven have spent a year of their lives in front of a monitor, maybe we should celebrate it. It shows they’re moving with the times, probably at a faster rate than the generation above them, confident and competent enough to take to a computer without asking stupid questions like ‘how do you turn this thing on’.

Sure there’s lots of games websites that we probably need to make sure our kids aren’t wasting too much time playing – and parental control programmes are a given – but more often than not these days when I find my daughter at the computer, she’s looking up something to do with school or homework. Damaging her brain? Nonsense. If anything, it’s helping her brain to expand.

Computers aren’t the enemy. They’re encouraging our children to learn and develop skills at a rate that they probably wouldn’t achieve with books and pens and papers alone. By and large, our teachers have embraced them to great effect so maybe it is time the rest of us did too.

All I’m saying is let’s not be so quick to reach for the off button yet. Apart from anything else, I, for one, am not quite sure where it is…





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