Electronic Toys can Undermine a Child's Creativity

Electronic Toys can Undermine a Child's Creativity

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Television, videogames and tech toys are dictating the "rules of engagement" to our children. There is a war going on between the children's old and trusted building blocks and the modern joysticks and remote controls. Which side are you on?

If you have not taken any position on this matter, please do. The future of children's creativity and imagination is at stake here. A lot of play equipment and software on the market today totally dictates children's play without leaving any space for them to exercise their imagination.

This is how it works. Adults program a toy or a videogame and bring it to market. Parents buy it and bring it home to entertain their children. Once that toy or game comes home, it begins to "program" the child. There is only one way to operate it, so, the child must do the same thing over and over again. It's not a play, it's an operation; a highly prescribed operation for that matter. The word "pre-scribed," means, "pre-written." A user is supposed to follow the instructions word by word.

I believe that the utilization of high tech stuff for children's education and entertainment is helpful. Concern expressed in this article is about excessive utilization of such material for young children.

Pliable materials such as building blocks, play dough, figurines, papers, colors and crayons give endless opportunities for young children to use their imagination to express their thoughts, feelings and fantasies. High tech products don't offer that. They tell a child very specifically what to do and what to imagine. A child has no choice but to follow the program.

Toddlers and preschoolers are being targeted as the new market. Unfortunately, young children constitute our most vulnerable population. Early childhood is the springboard of imagination and creativity and "robo-toys" do not offer any opportunity to express such faculties.

Be aware of other negative effects of high-tech products. For example, children who watch lots of TV or play video games may spend less time interacting with others. As a result, they are less likely to develop adequate social skills. (One or more of the following negative outcomes can occur from excessive utilization of television, video games and tech toys:
1. Stunting of creative thinking and imagination
2. Shortened attention span
3. Reduced opportunity to develop social skills
4. Increased tendency to become more passive or aggressive.
5. Loss of interest in "let's pretend" games and make-believe actions.
6. Lack of exercise and opportunity for large muscles movement and coordination.

Some children who have a tendency for "getting hooked" may find it hard to disengage from television, video games and tech toys and relate to people. They are likely to surrender creative play in favor of programs which create a high degree of visual excitement.

A child getting hooked is not just a figure of speech, it may be a biological fact. The more a boy plays video games, the more irritated he tends to be when asked to stop. According to a brain-imaging expert, the part of the brain that is active in video game playing is the same pleasure area that is activated by cocaine. One wonders if a child really gets addicted to it, much in the vein of a chemical addiction.

Other brain imaging specialists have speculated that underutilization of active reasoning and thinking shifts into "idle" the pre-frontal cortex of the brain which is responsible for planning, organizing and sequencing behaviors.

In one study, kids who watched the most TV did the worst in school.

Dr. Daniel Amen, an expert on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) says that many impulsive and excitement-seeking ADHD children are drawn to certain types of video games, television programs and Internet sites to find stimulation.

Here are a few recommendations for parents of young children: 1. The younger the child, the more wary should parents be of the "robo-toys." 2. Choose only the toys and programs that encourage social interaction and use of imagination. 3. Balance the high tech toys and software with pliable material such as building blocks, play dough, crayons, etc. 4. Balance the high tech with "high touch." Select toys and software which allow you to participate with your child in one-on one, face to face interaction, unlike a joystick game. In a joystick game, a parent and child face the video screen rather than facing each other.

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