Opening the digital world

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Over the years, there have been all manner of studies about the effects of television on children, teenagers, families, levels of violence, learning, fitness, morality and just about anything else you care to name, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro
With the explosion in types of screens over the past two decades, the hours of television viewing have dropped but they’ve been replaced by a proportionally greater amount of viewing on digital devices.

Therefore, it was with interest that I read a recent OECD report showing that New Zealand 15-year-olds are some of the world’s biggest users of the internet (for that age group) at 42 hours a week. Only 15-year-olds in Chile, Denmark and Sweden surpassed them.

Even more interesting was the finding that browsing the internet for schoolwork was the digital activity most strongly related to good reading performance, and it seems that our 15-year-olds spend time doing this almost every day.

They were also found to be good at navigating the internet to find information from a range of sources and good in their ability to separate opinion from fact.

It seems that the amount of time our youngsters spend online is not as important as what they are doing when they are. The report’s findings show that where non-schoolwork related activities such as simulation games predominated, online activity had a negative impact on reading performance.

Digital is no longer just our future, it’s very much our present.

I think we can safely conclude from the OECD report that, overall, our schools are training them well in making good use of the internet as an educational tool and certainly better than almost every other country.

However, we do need to bear in mind that the study also found that, across the board, those who read printed books and longer texts were better readers than those who read digital books or no books at all.

This leaves the question as to when it’s the right time to introduce our youngsters to the digital world.

A preschooler constantly on a device isn’t learning social interactive skills, isn’t being physically active and developing co-ordination and other physical skills and isn’t involved in the sort of creative and imaginative play associated with those crucial first years of brain development.

It might seem great that our 2-year-old can operate a tablet, but at that age there’s no real advantage gained. There are other more important things they need to be doing through to age 4. They’ll pick it up in no time a year or so later and then be showing us how best to use it.


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