Cyber Mowgli. Excessive access to television and gadgets hampers child development

30 July 2013, 18:00

One-sided development

At first, a child’s cyber accomplishments please parents: exciting toys keep their kids busy for hours on end. They don’t cry or scream. Eventually, however, their general development is stifled and their socialization with other children is poor.  They are barely interested in real games and lack verbal communication skills.   

“Television, just like other means of visual communication, largely employ the right hemisphere of the brain, while reading develops the left,” says Prof. Anatoliy Chuprykov, Director of the Kyiv-based Mental Health of Children and Teenagers Centre. “The right hemisphere starts to develop intensely at the age of three. By keeping their children busy with computers or cartoons on TV, parents prevent the stimulation of the left hemisphere, so just one hemisphere develops properly. The left hemisphere, which is responsible for logic and semantics, should become activated at the age of six-seven, but it won’t develop properly if the child spends most of the time at the computer. If the function is not activated on time, it won’t catch up later.”

A huge variety of computer games worsens concentration, while interactivity stifles imagination and abstract thinking. Kids find it difficult to concentrate on just one game when they have so many. As soon as the kids get bored with one, they immediately switch to another, without even trying to employ their imagination. “As a result, they think in blocks, unable to analyze details, in images and gestures but not in verbal categories,” Chuprykov explains. “With no alternative to visual and graphic thinking, children’s reality is narrowed down down to the screen.”

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Addicted to communications

In a recent experiment, Katerina Murashova, a psychologist based in St. Petersburg-based, proposed that a sample group of 68 teenagers aged 12 to 18 spend eight hours without computers, TVs, cell-phones and other means of communications. They could play music, read, write, draw or do anything else. Only three were able to do so. Seven survived for five hours. Most said that they quit the experiment because “I could no longer stand it”, “my head almost cracked” and “I thought I would explode”. 27 teenagers developed dizziness, fever, chills, sickness, tremors, dryness of mouth, as well as abdominal or chest pains. Virtually all participants of the experiment felt anxiety and fear, while five had “panic attacks” and three more had suicidal thoughts. All the symptoms went away as soon as they returned to their TVs and computers. 51 out of 68 admitted that they almost felt like computer and gadget addicts.

Back in the 1970s, American researchers calculated that two hours in front of a TV slows development to six words, so what can the impact of computers, in front of which kids spend far more time, be. As a result, verbal thinking almost stops while children think in images rather than words and find it hard to describe a sequence of events properly. “We’ll have a generation of young people suffering from depression in 15 – 20 years,” says Yulia Skliaruk, a psychologist at the Pavlov Psychoneurologic Hospital in Kyiv. “This is because their childhood was not filled with emotions – positive or negative. Instead, they only had simulations through cartoons and computer games.”  

Whatever computer advocates may say about computer games that are good for babies’ development is blown apart by one simple fact: they want to play whatever adults play, so they are interested in the Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Angry Birds rather than sketch and teach-yourself games. A kid who is not aware of all computer novelties will have a low social status. Also, communication with even the best child development software leaves children deprived of emotional communication. Visual information replaces real communication. As a result, the child grows emotionally immature and unable to deal with real communication.

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Parental advisory

Many developed countries, such as Sweden, have recorded a psychological disorder, earlier qualified as autism, more and more often. Now known as parental neglect, it is a disorder which is accompanied by inhibited psychological development, caused by the lack of parental attention to the child and the priority of career over parenting. Parents often fail to realize that computers, toys or TV cannot replace real communication. “We have ways to treat autism and parental neglect now,” Prof. Chuprykov says. “The main thing is to not be afraid to look the truth in the eye and to turn to experts as soon as possible. If a child does not speak by the age of five or seven, even intense treatment and the latest methods will not wipe out the psychological imprint for life that is primarily linked to complications with abstract thinking.” 

The consequences of parental neglect include a poor ability to learn, lack of confidence, unsocial behaviour and difficulties in communication with other people. Meanwhile, such children can cope under normal circumstances and show certain flexibility, initiative and independence, but only in fields they find interesting.

So, if you are facing a choice between switching on a cartoon or devoting some attention and time to your child, don’t disregard the latter’s importance. It directly affects children’s emotional and psychological development. 

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