WASHINGTON -- Early exposure to
computers stunts children's development and such technology should only be
introduced after elementary school, a group of U.S. educators and
psychologists said on Tuesday.
The Alliance for Childhood, a private nonprofit group that focuses on
child development, said in a report that computers and the Internet
prevent preschool children from interacting with each other and adults.
"Children need a healthy education, and computers cannot provide
them with a healthy education because children need a living education --
with live people," said Joan Almon, a former preschool teacher and
U.S. coordinator for the organization.
The U.S. government has spent billions of dollars a year on new
technology for elementary schools. In 1994, the Clinton administration
said it would work with public schools to have them hooked up to the
Internet by the end of this year. According to the report, in the last
five years public schools have spent more than $27 billion in computer
technology and related costs.
Most schools wired
As of late 1999, 95 percent of schools were connected, said a spokesman
for the U.S. Department of Education.
Almon said some schools have cut back on teachers, library books, music
and arts programs, and field trips to parks, while spending millions on
computer hardware and software.
"Children are increasingly being denied warmth, artistic inspiration
and understanding. Only a teacher can do that," Kim John Payne, a
Massachusetts child psychologist, told Reuters in a phone interview.
are increasingly being denied warmth, artistic inspiration and
understanding. Only a teacher can do that.'
John Payne, child psychologist
Studies show that introduction to computers at an early age does not
heighten children's creativity and can cause eye strain, repetitive stress
injuries and obesity.
Those who frequently draw on a computer are reluctant to create hand
drawings, and are extremely critical of their handwritten artwork because
it is not "sophisticated enough," she said.
Effects far reaching
The effects go beyond that, Payne said.
She said children's social skills are hindered as schools reduce recess
time and increase computer lab time. Early exposure desensitizes them to
other children's emotions, she added. It is particularly damaging at a
young age because the brain is most active in terms of the socialization
"When children are playing with a computer they are not playing
with each other," Payne said. "It's a virtual world not a real
But not everyone agreed with the report. Alan Delamater, a child
psychologist at the University of Miami, acknowledged risks such as
posture problems and obesity, but said this was outweighed by benefits
such as educational games.
"It's a sedentary activity, but so is reading," Delamater
Parental monitoring needed
He said children need to learn to use computers at an early age because
they are part of modern life, but stressed that parents need to monitor
things like computer games.
While Almon and her peers encouraged parents and teachers to keep young
children away from computers, they favored their use in the education of
"They are wonderful tools," she said. "Let's be really
careful about how we use them."