The role of technology in child development

Looking at the pros and cons of digital technology on the development of a child.

Technology has advanced tremendously and has taken control of our daily lives.

Every household has at least one television set, a laptop or desktop. It is not an uncommon sight to see kids playing with smartphones or tablets nowadays.

We cannot deny how much technology has helped us, but are we exposing ourselves and our children to too much of it?

Pros and cons

There has been much research and plenty of debate among educators, policy-makers, paediatricians and parents on the benefits and disadvantages of technology over the years. Here are a few of them:

The pros

• Makes long-distance communication possible – kids are able to talk to friends and family who are far away.

• Teaches cause and effect – enhances your child’s curiosity and encourages him to explore from the safety of your home.

• Pushing keys and using the mouse help in fine-tuning your child’s fine motor skills, which enhances their eye-hand coordination.

• Studies carried out by independent researchers have found that the use of technologies could support home learning in various ways:

Operational learning: parents can teach their children how to control and use technology, and it is an opportunity for parents to encourage personalised responses by contributing their own input.

Extending knowledge and understanding of the world: kids can find out about people, places and the world.

Disposition to learn: encourages concentration and persistence, helps them to build self-confidence and self-esteem, and also increases their competence in using technology.

• The role of technology in everyday life – through observing their parents, children will learn how technology can help with everyday things such as travel research, ordering goods, sending texts, communicating with people far away, etc.

A primary student looks at a school website where online learning is set up as schools close because of the outbreak of swine flu  in Hong Kong on June 19, 2009.  The closure of dozens of Hong Kong schools to try to halt the spread of swine flu has kept thousands of children at home, but new technology has meant they can no longer escape their teachers.      AFP PHOTO/MIKE CLARKE
Technological interactivity can never replace human interaction as current technology cannot replace the human element of interaction between parent and child. – AFP

The cons

• In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warned that technology may affect pre-schoolers’ developing cognitive and social skills.

• Learning toys may dampen educational potential as most interactive toys are made based on mundane educational tasks. These toys may provide some motivation for learning at first, but young kids may get bored and stop learning if they have not mastered the operational aspects of clicking, scrolling or pressing actions.

• Operational problems could be solved by tablet computers but the extensive use of tablet computers does not encourage innovative learning as some apps are simply a copy of their predecessor, i.e. electronic books.

• No stimulation of adult-child conversations: technological interactivity can never replace human interaction as current technology cannot replace the human element of interaction between parent and child.

• Increases aggressive responses from playing violent video games.

• Potentially disrupts sleep: children need at least 12 hours of sleep per day for them to grow healthily.

• Encourages a sedentary lifestyle: as mentally stimulating as they are, technological devices do not promote physical stimulation as much as physical activity. Kids need to move about as it helps them build strong muscles and learn what their bodies can do. When a sedentary lifestyle becomes a habit, children will face increased risk of obesity.

• Leads to technology addiction.

The AAP recommends that children below two-years-old not be exposed to any form of screen-time activity. Children above two should limit their use of screen activity to two hours per day. Within these two hours, the content should be enriching and filtered by parents and caregivers accordingly.

300 dpi Chris Strach color illustration of kids surrounding a technology-happy mom wearing iPod and cell phone and holding up an unplugged monitor. San Jose Mercury News 2008<p>mother techie illustration technology kids students, krteducation education, krtteacher teacher, learning, pupil, student, teaching children woman women ipod cellphone, krtnational national, krtscience science, krtscitech, krtworld world, SCI, EDU krt, mctillustration, krtdiversity diversity, woman women, youth, 13016000, 13000000 krttechelectronics electronics, krttechnology technology, 05010001, 05010002,  2008, krt2008, sj contributed coddington strach mct mct2008

Striking a balance

As we can see, technology has its pros and cons on a child’s development. As it is impossible to completely restrict the use of technology, it is the responsibility of parents to strike a balance.

Here are a few tips:

• Switch off the TV and put away your phones during meal times, and encourage conversation among one another.

• Remove any gadgets, especially TV and laptops from bedrooms.

• Get outdoors and move with sports like badminton, jogging, or even gardening (young kids enjoy playing with dirt and mud).

• Keep all gadgets 30 minutes before bedtime; then read or sing a lullaby to them before bedtime.

• Schedule about one hour of technology-free time every day.

• Introduce traditional games back into your child’s playtime such as hide and seek, scrabble, chess, congkak etc.

• Get back to nature. Bring the family for fishing or hiking.

• Try out new hobbies such as reading, painting, cooking, clay modelling etc.

• Be actively involved with your children when they are using interactive technologies to learn.

• Join a volunteer group – this encourages social interactions and they’re helping others.

Quoting from Dr Marjorie Hogan, one of the paediatricians who helped draft the AAP screen-time guidelines for kids, “media consumption can be seen in the same way as food consumption”.

It is all about moderation and choosing the right content. Don’t be afraid to use technology as it is undeniable that there are many new gadgets and applications that are useful for your kids. Just be mindful and know when it is the right time for a time-out.

¦ Associate Professor Dr M Swamenathan is a consultant psychiatrist. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. The opinion expressed in the article is the view of the author. For further information, please visit For further information, e-mail The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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