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Addicted to the Small Screen

Concern is growing among teachers in the United Kingdom and abroad about children as young as three or four obsessively using tablets and smartphones.

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By Desiree Bowie

04/15/14

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Can an iPad, NOOK, or Kindle become tools for addiction in children? According to Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) in the United Kingdom, the answer is yes.

“It is like having a TV in the bedroom but it is easier [to deceive parents] because it is smaller,” Bousted said. “Parents will say to their children ‘turn your tablet off now and go to bed’ but two hours later they’re still under the duvet playing their computer games.”

According to Bousted, children are increasingly spending their nights staring into the small screen of their digital tablets playing games or participating in other social media. As a result, they are arriving at school the next day irritable and too tired to learn. “Rather than sleeping they can be playing the games for anything between four and five hours,” she said. “My view is the only thing you as a parent can do is take it off them.”

Addiction to tablets is causing students to withdraw from real social interaction and creating poor performance at school. Tablets are small and easier to hide from unknowing parents, allowing children to waste 4-5 hours a night online when they should be resting for the day ahead. 

Aside from the lack of sleep, teachers of preschool-aged children are also growing concerned about an alarming risk in diminished motor skills thanks to constant use of tablets and smartphones. While young kids are able to swipe a screen, they possess little-to-no manual dexterity to play with building blocks.

“I have spoken to a number of nursery teachers who have concerns over the increasing numbers of young pupils who can swipe a screen but have little or no manipulative skills to play with building blocks or the like,” said Colin Kinney, a teacher from Northern Ireland.

But while there is cause for concern, Bousted believes the key to proper development is to limit a child’s use of the devices. "I don't think anybody in the debate is going to say 'let's go back to the 20th century,' it's about how they are managed and how they are used and particularly about how they are used in schools.”

The ATL is set to debate a resolution at its annual conference in Manchester next week highlighting teachers' concerns about tablet addiction among pupils.

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