Occupational Therapy

The Impact of Electronic Devices on Fine Motor Skills

With technology and electronic devices being a prevalent part of day-to-day life, parents and teachers are becoming concerned as to what’s appropriate for young kids to use and do. Research does show both benefits and possible risks linked with technology use.

A few health organizations have expressed concern about how much time kids spend using technology and about the damages and benefits of the use of electronic devices, like tablets or smartphones,  for the behavior and development of kids under the age of five. 

Research on the Effects of Technology on Development and Behavior

One systematic review was conducted to get an understanding of the effect of touchscreen devices on the behavior and development of children under the age of five.

The research’s results showed in kids under five years old, the damages of using touchscreen devices were superior to the benefits that might result, particularly when they use them for more hours than other activities.  

Researchers state kids who use too much technology show up to school unable to cut paper with scissors or hold pencils, which are essential early fine motor skills. Tablets and smartphones make great pacifiers and babysitters for crying or bored children.

But, they could be keeping your kids from developing the important hand strength they require for fine motor activities like:

  • Cutting with scissors
  • Holding pencils
  • Performing tasks kids their same age could do only a decade ago easily

Children are coming into classrooms and pediatric occupational therapy ill-prepared for activities requiring finger muscle strength like writing. Things to blame for this are too much technology use and a lack of traditional activities like:

  • Coloring
  • Stringing beads
  • Other pastimes

Kids come into school and are handed pencils, but are growingly unable to hold them because they lack the necessary fundamental movement skills.

It’s simpler to hand your child a tablet or smartphone than encourage them to perform muscle-building play like:

  • Cutting and sticking
  • Building blocks
  • Ropes
  • Pulling toys

Because of this, children aren’t developing the needed foundational skills they require to hold and grip a pencil.

Things You Can Do to Help

In the earliest development stages, this setback could be detrimental to children during their childhood if parents, teachers and professionals like the child’s pediatric occupational therapist don’t address it.

Set strict limits on how much time you allow your child to use an electronic device. Require they meet certain requests prior to being able to sign on.

For instance, you should only allow your child screen time after they’ve completed their homework or chores. Insist on them engaging in an adequate amount of outdoor play as well before they can use their devices. And even after that, still limit how much time they can use the technology; perhaps no more than an hour for children up to middle school each evening and no more than two hours maximum on weekends. As a parent, you also have to remember your child is likely on a screen all day while they’re at school.

Like with any habit or addiction, taking the smart device or tablet away from your child will be difficult, but you should stay firm. It’s the best way of setting them up for proper development and success later on.

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