An alarming number of children can no longer hold pencils and pens due to excessive technology use, pediatricians in in the U.K. warn. They claim that tablet-addled kids, who can crack their parents’ smartphone passwords before their fifth birthdays, now lack the dexterity to use basic utensils.
“Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are, increasingly, not able to hold it because they don’t have the fundamental movement skills,” Sally Payne, head pediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust said in statement. “Children are not coming into school with the hand strength and dexterity they had 10 years ago.”
Past research has given parents plenty of reasons to worry about when it comes to staring at screens, from poor sleep hygiene, to obesity, to mental health problems (although recent studies cast doubt on these concerns). But maybe we should be more worried about how kids swipe than how they stare. For instance, at least one study, published in the journal Physical & Occupational Therapy In Pediatrics, has shown that excessive tablet use can hinder fine motor development in young children.
The issue is that using a pencil requires a surprising amount of control and practice. Young children need to be given opportunities to develop the small but important muscles in their fingers—and prodding your iPad is not one of them. Instead, coloring at home with crayons can help, Sari Ockner, an occupational therapist at Kidz Occupational Therapy, told the Huffington Post UK.
Still, nobody is saying it’s time to cut technology out of your kids’ lives and tell grandma that her Face Time days are over. You want your kid to be able to hold a pencil, but you also want him or her to feel at home in front of a laptop. The key is ensuring that time spent with technology is limited and worthwhile. “This is not so much worrying about the number of hours that children spend on their technology, but look at what they are doing whilst on it,” child psychologist Amanda Gummer told HuffPost UK. “And also look at what they do when they’re not using their tech.”
So the next time your kids cover the wall in marker instead of zoning out to an unboxing video on YouTube, keep the carnage in perspective. At least they’ll be able to hold pencils some day.