I see it more and more. The young ones have a face glued to a screen. The transition from 3D toys to a flat screen has been dramatic – almost as dramatic as the disappearance of checks with the advent of debit cards. And while the transformation from checks to debit cards has a number of benefits (fewer muggings, fewer bounced checks, no out-of-town challenges) and a couple disadvantages (greater fees for both the user and the merchant, identity theft risk), in general, the benefits outweigh the negatives.
The same is NOT true for screen children (what the kids whose only or primary toy is a screen of one type or another are being called). The benefits are there – they sit quietly (for the most part) in services and other locations, the tablets are portable, and overall, the cost of a tablet is less than the cost of many 3D toys, and there is less clean up for child and parent. However, the price being paid is huge.
Both scientific studies and anecdotal evidence is showing that many of these kids lack significant hand-eye coordination and other 3D skills. Many of these children are UNABLE to build a block house. It is not just that they prefer the screen pretend world, it is that they have not had to face the obstacles of the 3D world and so they cannot develop or access the skills they would have gained from learning about those challenges.
Yes, they can learn the physical principles associated with just about anything and still have NO IDEA how something works or why it works. Nor will they have developed MUCH of the creativity, eye-hand coordination, or critical thinking skills that accompany overcoming such challenges. Yes, they can reach for the tablet and they can swipe the screen, but they do not have to stretch and reach, risking knocking over the structure along the way. And 3D toys do not “reset” the way tablet games do. Nor are the children subjected to as many commercial messages along the way.
Children learn from their play, hopefully being able to test their skills in a safe environment. There are a host of secondary learning skills that follow from 3D play, including playing with another child. The screen play is usually not cooperative in anything like the synchronous play with 3D toys. With screen play, kids are often playing their own games silently sitting next to another child playing their own game – both with no social interaction. Even when a game is played against or with someone else, it is often the computer that is the child’s playmate or someone miles away.
There is a subtle danger in the reality that in order to program a screen game, the coder/programmer has made many of the potential choices non-available for many reasons, and so the child learns only a couple responses to challenges, and seldom creative ones. I recently saw a promo for a game where a young woman finds out that she is pregnant and the player is then given two and only two options: try to find out who the father is or keep it a secret. I certainly find problems with either choice, not the least of which is the assumptions that it teaches girls. This game is billed as appropriate to teens and I am told it is very popular in high schools and some middle schools. I would like to think that the average teen can come up with many more options. I also hope that the average teen girl who finds she is pregnant knows who the father of the child is….
The abandonment of 3D toys has even been felt in our temple. Kids prefer their screens to the toys in the toy box. For me personally, that has been the most notable change. When a child learns that there is not a tablet or other screen game in the toy box, they leave the toy box with its 3D toys for the splash of the screen. I am sure the toys miss the kids…. I worry about our and their futures.