PCs damage kid's brains, claims expert
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By Sarah Harris
London - Computers are harming the development of youngsters who are introduced to them "too early", an expert warned this week.
Instead of helping to advance their knowledge, they reduce children's attention span and hamper their language skills, Jane Healey said.
Parents should strictly limit the amount of time youngsters spend using computers and watching television, she told the Parent Child 2000 Conference in London.
Children should be interacting with their parents and others around them instead of being forced to focus on an "unchallenging, two-dimensional world", she added.
Healey, an educational psychologist from Colorado, condemned the current American craze among parents for giving computers to toddlers. Studies had shown children under the age of seven were likely to be better off without them.
"It is playing with the parental hormone, guilt, to make them believe that if a child doesn't have a computer by the age of three, it's not going to get a job," Healey told the conference.
"But to the contrary, it is limiting children's physical development and taking too much time away from what they should be doing.
"They are, in fact, damaging their brain development in the sense that it's going to make it harder for them to learn at school."
She went on: "Most of the software developed to try to stimulate young children's learning is actually, I believe, doing more harm than good. It may be affecting their attention, their emotional motivation and language development.
"They are not talking or expressing themselves. From a computer it's just coming at them in a series of stimuli formulated to make them respond quickly."
Problems with physical health through early use of computers had also been documented.
Healey added: "With any profound influence we introduce into our children's lives we need to look carefully at how much time it might be taking away from developmental activities that are so important in their early years.
"Parents need to be careful that what comes into their children's brains is carefully sanctioned for suitability in terms of content and in terms of not spending too much time on any electronic medium."
The most crucial thing was for children to be brought up in a secure environment with interaction in the world around them and interesting activities in language and creative playing, she said.
Ryde College in Watford, a private tutorial establishment, runs computer lessons for infants as young as 18 months. They learn about shapes, colours and simple vocabulary on computers that use software devised for the very young. At two-and-a-half, youngsters are introduced to programming and basic word processing by their tutors.
Ryde set the record for the youngest General Certificate of School Education success in 1998 when a 6-year-old boy passed his computing exam there.