A study led by Sandra Calvert of the Children’s Digital Media Center found that 21 percent of children two years and younger use computers, achieving the ability to use them independently at three years old. In addition, 58 percent of three- to four-year-olds use computers, as well as 77 percent of 5- to 6-year-olds. In some ways, this heavy level of usage is good, offering children developmental and academic benefits. However, there are also disadvantages to such computer usage that can affect your child’s health. Understanding these pros and cons can help you adjust your child’s computer usage for maximum benefits.
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Pro: Academic Preparation and Improved Skills
In a study of 122 preschoolers enrolled in Head Start, children who received teaching via educational computer programs did better on tests of academic preparation than those who received standard Head Start teaching, says the All About Vision site. For those in kindergarten or elementary schooling, computers helped children improve their mathematical thinking, problem solving skills, and critical thinking and increased scores on language assessment tests, says the Kid Source site.
Con: Risk of Childhood Computer Vision Syndrome
Children who use computers for extended periods are at a higher risk of developing childhood computer vision syndrome. This syndrome, also common in adults, is a series of eye or vision problems experienced during computer use, says the American Optometric Association site. It is characterized by eye strain, burning eyes, and blurred or double vision. Children are susceptible to this syndrome because computers demand motor skills from eyes that are not fully developed, a problem that adults with mature visual systems can handle better, says the All About Vision web site. To help reduce these risks, limit your child's time on the computer, with twenty minute breaks for every twenty minutes spent on the computer. In addition, adjust the work station to cater to his size, and make sure the distance between his eye and the computer screen is at 18 to 28 inches.
Pro: Improvement in Cooperation and Working with Others
It is beneficial to have children work with others while on the computer as much as possible, says the All About Vision site. Sharing computers with others can improve your child's ability to cooperate with others. Working with others helps children learn how to take turns on the machine and how to speak and listen to others using the computer.
Con: Hindrance of Physical Development
Your child’s physical development may be hindered by spending long periods of time in front of a computer. He may not get enough physical activity or may be sitting in a position that promotes poor posture. To remedy both of these issues, try encouraging him to take frequent breaks from the computer. Help your child to be active when he is not at the computer, and restrict his computer usage to less than two hours a day.
- National Science Foundation: Children, TV, Computers and More Media: New Research Shows Pluses, Minuses
- All About Vision: Children and Computer Vision Syndrome
- Kid Source: Computers and Young Children
- All About Vision: Computer Vision Syndrome and Computer Glasses: FAQ
- American Optometric Association: Computer Vision Syndrome