Technology May Limit Developing Imaginations


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Remember snapping pictures and waiting a few days until the film was developed? Or pondering different facts until you had a chance to go to look them up? Today's technology makes waiting pretty much obsolete. What does this mean for the developing minds of young children?

Technology has undoubtedly changed our lives and has made accessing information much easier and more convenient. We have instant access, at any given moment, to endless data. Photographs can be viewed immediately on a camera or phone, images can be pulled up in a search in less than a second, and facts and data can be checked after a quick look online. Data in packets can be appropriate for adult minds, but young minds are still developing capacities to imagine, ponder and make meaningful connections.

Waiting and developing imaginations

By removing the gap of waiting, children's minds have to do very little work to imagine. Back when we couldn't see photographs right away, our minds had to create the images as we imagined how our pictures would turn out. Similarly, without a way to access answers instantaneously, we had a period of time in which our minds could imagine the possibilities. These small exercises of waiting and imagining strengthen the mind and help develop skills needed for higher thinking, reasoning and problem-solving.

With today's growing technology, children are missing out on these experiences. This impacts not only their capacity to imagine and problem-solve, but also their ability to cope with feelings associated with waiting (delayed gratification) and makes waiting in general more challenging (frustration tolerance).

What can you do?

While the Internet is a great tool to access data, limit it as a resource for young children seeking to find answers. Help your child ponder the possibilities and potential answers. Then look for answers the old-fashioned way: Take your time to look through a book or visit a library. Doing so will help your child become a more active thinker, develop reasoning and problem-solving skills, and cope with waiting feelings - all necessary for tackling problems and finding solutions.

Take, for instance, a child's question about the speed of the fastest land animal, the cheetah. A quick online search will give you the answer with little time to wonder or ask other pertinent questions. Seeking the answer in a book, and flipping through the pages to find the desired information, however, will lead to other related facts and information. Where do cheetahs live? What do they eat? Why are they so fast? What other animals live around cheetahs? What is the second-fastest animal?

Consider other steps to delay gratification. For instance, after taking pictures on an outing, set aside a time later, or on another day, to go through them together and reflect on the experience. Avoid showing the pictures right after taking them, helping your child to stay in the moment of the experience and use his or her memory to relive it at a later time. Ask questions or make comments to help activate the memories in your child's mind, start conversations, and provide meaningful reflective experiences for you and your child. For example: "Let's look at our museum pictures from last week. Do you remember what your favorite part was?" or "Remember our picnic at the park? We had so much fun. Let's look at the pictures together."

These and other "waiting" experiences will build your child's capacity to imagine and cope with frustration when answers cannot be immediately found. In the process, you and your child will likely have rewarding experiences coming across other related information - information you wouldn't have known was interesting to your child until you stumbled upon it together.

The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families.

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