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Child Behavior: My phone is smarter than your honor roll kid!

Can too much time online can be harmful?

We’re seeing more stressed out kids, whose playtime is being replaced by computing. I want to continue to discuss the problem of “hurried children,” because many child behavior specialists claim they’re seeing an increasing number of such cases. Is 'computer time' overloading your child with too much information while they stare vapidly at their monitors?

A worsening situation

For those of you who are not familiar with this topic, “Hurried Child Syndrome,” is a term based on the influential book, the "Hurried Child" by Dr. David Elkind. We are pushing our kids harder now than when Dr. Elkind first warned us about the problem in the early 1980s. Some parents have gone as far as to provide their infants with computers designed for adults. Imagination, creativity, and physical activity are being tossed out in favor of a race to enhance a child’s academic abilities. Studies show little to no evidence that this early push for academics has any lasting effects.


According to one report, about 50 million dollars a year is spent on computer software for kids. A large percentage of this money is spent on “lapware,” software for children between 6 months to 2 years of age. It’s called “lapware,” because the tiny child must sit on a parent’s lap in order to reach the computer. “Lapware” also comes with a specially cushioned mouse.

Kids and computers

Child behavior experts say those who write and market software programs don’t fully understand what children learn, or when they learn it. Many professionals believe that much of the software made for young kids, either instructs the child on something he or she already knows, or attempts to teach the child a skill beyond his or her ability to learn.

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Potential harm

Other experts think these software systems are potentially harmful. It’s not clear if overstimulation from TV or computer images has an effect on an infant’s developing eyesight. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that young children not watch TV or be exposed to computer screens.

Educational psychologist, Jane Healey, feels that children shouldn’t use computers until the age of seven. She writes, “The minute we introduce an artificially engaging stimulus with fast paced visuals, startling noises, silly scenarios and easy excitement, the brain is directed away from its natural developmental tasks.”

The power of play

In addition to his findings about hurried kids, Dr. Elkind also wrote, “The Power of Play.” He finds that many parents tend to overlook the numerous contributions playtime makes to a young child’s development. First and foremost, babies and young children experience muscle development and enhanced hand-eye coordination. Play also helps brain and central nervous system development. Play promotes creativity. It enhances social skills; allowing children to practice pretend social situations where they can make rules, resolve conflicts, and share ideas.

Without a script

Unscripted play is vital for a child's healthy development. I am not negating T-Ball, dance lessons or any other adult coordinated activity, since they can enrich a child's life, but we need to let them play on their own more often. Maybe it’s time for us to say to our kids, “good playing,” instead of trying to encourage them with an old misguided phrase like, “good job.”

Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College. He is available for speaking engagements to parent groups.