At the start of the new school year when pupils in pur­suit of per­for­mance race to­wards “dig­i­tal ev­ery­thing”, alarm bells are ring­ing.

Milk Magazine (English) - - CONTENTS - text: dies blau — il­lus­tra­tion: marie mignot

Dig­i­tal ev­ery­thing: be­ware of los­ing con­trol

Re­cent re­ports from pae­di­a­tri­cians and speech ther­a­pists are sound­ing the alarm. The de­vel­op­ment of an ex­po­nen­tial num­ber of chil­dren is be­ing dis­rupted by ex­ces­sive ex­po­sure to ever-more in­va­sive screen-based de­vices.

Red alert

Chil­dren ex­posed to screens too of­ten risk im­pair­ing their de­vel­op­ment and find­ing them­selves adrift in the neb­u­lous do­main of autism spec­trum dis­or­ders (ASDs). Doc­tors ob­serv­ing these chil­dren have iden­ti­fied a pat­tern of be­hav­iour veer­ing straight from ap­a­thy to overex­cite­ment, with no happy medium in the pro­cess­ing of their emo­tions. Side ef­fects may in­clude a loss of sense and sen­si­bil­ity, hence the ca­pac­ity for em­pa­thy, which is an in­te­gral part of be­ing hu­man.

The “flap­ping hands” symp­tom has also emerged: ow­ing to the swip­ing move­ments their hands make on touch screens, very young chil­dren find it hard to hold a pen­cil in their fin­gers…

Mar­ket­ing dic­tates: smoke screens?

Mar­ket­ing has plunged full blast into this race to­wards “dig­i­tal ev­ery­thing”, while par­ents, al­ways full of good in­ten­tions, are now hav­ing to cope with dig­i­tal de­vices beyond their un­der­stand­ing.

As with the dis­cov­ery of the mag­i­cal force of elec­tric­ity in the past, it is not a ques­tion of deny­ing the ev­i­dence of tech­no­log­i­cal progress but of urg­ing vig­i­lance. Un­der the cloak of per­for­ma­tive education, brands have put apps on the mar­ket that will make your child seem like a prodigy: apps to learn the names of all the colours in a for­eign lan­guage by the age of three and other such fun tests. But let’s not lose sight of the bricks that form the foun­da­tion of our lit­tle ones’ de­vel­op­ment.

First, in­ter­ac­tiv­ity: not in the dig­i­tal sense of the term, no, but in the sense of “nor­mal” in­ter­ac­tion that ex­ists with­out dig­i­tal de­vices. Tablets will never re­place a babysit­ter, the pres­ence of a par­ent or teacher…

Sec­ond, love: one must qual­ify mar­ket­ing dic­tates that rel­e­gate par­ents to the rank of “has-beens”. Of course your “dig­i­tal na­tive” off­spring will far out­strip you in knowl­edge of new tech­nolo­gies, but, on the other hand, no­body needs a tu­to­rial to learn how to love one’s child…

Re­gres­sion dis­guised as moder­nity?

Stud­ies car­ried out on how the ma­jor­ity of states in the USA have given up teach­ing cur­sive writ­ing show the non-neg­li­gi­ble im­pact on chil­dren’s psy­chomo­tor de­vel­op­ment. In fact, typ­ing on a com­puter im­plies us­ing two hands, whereas writ­ing with a pen is con­trolled by one side of the brain that pro­cesses lan­guage con­nec­tions. Neu­ro­sci­en­tists have been is­su­ing warn­ings about this change for sev­eral years.

Sev­eral lob­bies have long bat­tled for reme­dies for all sorts of hy­per­ac­tiv­ity, which now makes us stop and think about the kind of fu­ture we want for our chil­dren. To­day, the ways and means of re­duc­ing stress are le­gion, from the in­nocu­ous hand spin­ner to heavy-handed med­i­ca­tion such as methylphenidate (sold un­der var­i­ous trade names, e.g. Ri­talin). Yet our chil­dren are not cas­trat­able pets to be calmed by putting in chem­i­cal straight­jack­ets.

Don’t slam tablets, mete out their use in­stead

O In­no­va­tion in dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy is high pro­fileO but not M ex­clu­sive. We all need tools, but we should not be en­slaved by dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy. It should not hin­der a fun­da­men­tal education that strives to make chil­dren in­de­pen­dent, a term in­com­pat­i­ble with ad­dicted.

The teach­ers to whom we en­trust our chil­dren for sev­eral hours each day should be trained to in­tro­duce dig­i­tal de­vices as teach­ing aids. One should not for­get that screen-based de­vices are po­ten­tially ad­dic­tive. The sub­ject has been re­searched by some highly mo­ti­vated peo­ple, but this should now be­come a global con­cern, so that “dig­i­tal ev­ery­thing” will be­come a “mi­gra­tory” (in the pos­i­tive sense of the term) not a “mu­ta­tional” goal and that fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will still be en­dowed with em­pa­thy and other hu­man qual­i­ties. The fu­ture does not need a con­tin­gent of dumb mu­tants. Screens and screams…

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