Should kids under nine use computers?

Child at computer

Children under the age of nine shouldn't be using computers, a prominent UK child psychologist has claimed.

Dr Aric Sigman disagrees with the Government's educational roadmap that requires children to be introduced to computers at two years of age, claiming that exposing children that young to technology can damage their not-fully-formed brain. He insists children should first became accomplished at living and developing in the normal 3D environment rather than focused on a two-dimensional interface such as a computer screen.

The Early Years Foundation Stage, which was introduced in 2008, sets out dozens of learning goals for children from their first year up to the age of five, and requires that computers be introduced from 22 months.

However, in comments reported by [il]The Telegraph, Dr Sigman argues that at an age when building a sustained attention span was crucial to a child's development, introducing IT and the inevitable requirement for multi-tasking that comes with it was likely to shorten, not develop, their attention span.

"There is evidence to show that introducing information and communication technology (ICT) in the early years actually subverts the very skills that Government ministers said they want children to develop, such as the ability to pay attention for sustained periods," Dr Sigman told a conference of childcare specialists yesterday.

"There is a conflict between multitasking and sustained attention. These things cannot and should not be developed at the same time. Sustained attention must be the building block. The big problems we are seeing now with children who do not read, or who find it difficult to pay attention to the teacher, or to communicate, are down to attention damage that we are finding in all age groups."

The appropriate age for children to be exposed to IT remains a controversial subject, with as many theories supporting the Early Years Foundation Stage as there are condemning it. However, Dr Sigman is adamant that children should ideally be kept away from screen technology as much as possible in their early years.

"It must be introduced and used judiciously at much later ages ideally at least age nine or it can subvert the development of the cognitive skills and curiosity it was intended to foster and enhance," he argued. "We risk infantilising the child's mind by spoon-feeding it with strong audio-visual sensations."

He also took aim at the argument that a child's natural interest in computers at a young age showed they were ready to get to grips with one.

"The rationale behind it is that children are interested in these things and that it is the world that children are growing up in. Therefore we must have them getting to grips with it at 22 months," he said. "Just because children are interested in something, it does not mean by any stretch of the imagination, that it is in their interests to expose them to these things."