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My friend app

It is most inevitable to find kids entertaining themselves with electronic gadgets like smart phones, laptops, tablets, iPads, iPods and the like at restaurants, airport lounges, metros, trains, flights or any other ‘adult’ space for that matter that requires some amount of waiting and is not exactly big on the appeal factor for children. Since childhood is the age of exploration and the internet provides a wealth of opportunities for children to expand their horizons, the connect is instant and prolonged, too.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it is better to avoid exposure to television and other gadgets till the age of three years. ‘Early exposure to gadgets is known to delay development of language and social skills. Some children may develop addiction to these gadgets, especially online gaming and use of social networking sites,’ says AAP. In a study done by National Institute of Education, Singapore, it was reported that 65 per cent children had access to gadgets by the age of three years and of these, 95 per cent were using Internet on these devices. So, the question remains as to whether there are only negative impacts of these gadgets on the young minds or are there certain positives too that we can also look at?  Dr Nimesh Desai, Director, Institute of Human Behaviour & Allied Sciences (IHBAS) says: ‘It is not easy to adapt to new innovations but tendency to avoid always doesn’t help also. The older generation tends to have an aversion towards new technologies. But if carefully noted, all negative impacts are reducing. Though kids and elders not getting social exposure or proper natural exposure is a concern, we have to look at it positively. The use of gadgets by specially-abled kids has helped them open up immensely. Gizmos are a boon for those who are introverts and wish to remain within a shell of their own and feel like fish out of water when they are amidst a different group of people who don’t tend to understand them. Gadgets are also a blessing for those people or kids, for that matter, who belong to the internal world or suffer some kind of social phobia or live in fantasies. There are many cases where people have shown positive results when exposed to gadgets. These people/kids should be identified in schools or families without making them conscious. They should not feel targeted or labeled.’

Understandably, an average child is curious to discover new facts and explore new concepts. Internet is a ready solution at hand. The development of the child depends upon the quality of education he or she gets and his or her interaction with the surroundings. In today’s age, internet acts as a window which allows a child to peep into the outside world without leaving the four walls of the house. Internet has become a medium of information dissemination. Online classes and home schooling are becoming increasingly accepted. Gone are the days when people used to depend only on schools for education. Due to the upcoming developments in the usage of internet, children living in small towns with limited access to internet are often left behind in the race for better opportunities.

Nisha Goel, a hands-on mom and a technologist herself, is all game for apps for her three-year-old toddler. It keeps her busy and she can learn a lot, she says. ‘I have made a routine for her. She is very addicted to the iPad but she is obedient too. She plays a lot of games and listens to music. She is also learning to draw. I’m very happy as long as she listens to me. An increased exposure to information improves the quality of learning and strengthens cognitive abilities such as memory, spatial and logical problem solving, critical thinking, etc. Proper use of the thesaurus or other literary sources promotes the literacy development and improves both verbal and non-verbal skills. The internet promotes innovation, creativity and self learning in children. Use of internet for educational purposes in the form of animations or pictures helps the students to understand the concept in a better manner. It makes the abstract concepts more clear.

Now-a-days, a student’s education is not limited to a single place. Right from their childhood, kids want to have a well-defined future for which the internet is of great help. But most parents are worried about the excessive use of mobiles, iPods and the internet that their kids have access to. And throughout the world, there are studies that highlight several negative aspects of internet usage. So, it is possible to keep children away from these gadgets? Every cloud has a silver lining, they say. It is not fair to keep children away from accessing all sorts of information available readily at the click of a mouse in this 21st century. What is required is to strike a balance. The Bangalore’s National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, NIMHANS, has set up a tech de-addiction centre, to help those who need it and the clinic is getting at least one patient a week.

Dr Sameer Malhotra, Head, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Max Hospital, feels no technology is bad, provided it is used judiciously. ‘It is very important to see for how many hours the kids are being exposed to the gadgets. Parents should also note whether they are having enough sleep or not as children always tend to work late hours with these gadgets. It is absolutely imperative that other priorities are not disturbed and affected. Parents should always keep in mind that children should not lose out on inter-personal relationships and also engage in human interaction, rather always being glued to the computer or video games.’ He further states: ‘Children who have Obsessive Compulsive Disorders tend to lose purpose of life. Internet is an excellent tool through which they can open up to the world and connect. Autistic kids get immense help with gadgets and gizmos.’

Autism is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders that typically appears during the first three years of a person’s life. It impacts a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. According to a recent research, autism is treatable but children do not simply ‘outgrow’ it. Nevertheless, there are many useful apps which can be used for autistic kids along with other therapeutic strategies. Certain apps like Proloquo2Go, Koule,  First Words, ABCs and Me and Puzzle Me to name a handful have proved to be really useful for kids with autism. Dozens of assistance and education autism apps have sprung up on tablets and other devices. The accessibility of online stores as a platform for apps has opened a new avenue for parents. Those with the know-how are able to create apps based on their child’s specific needs as well. According to experts, the iPad lessens the symptoms of the disorder, helping kids deal with life’s sensory overload - in a sense ‘curing’ the disorder. According to a recent report, it is thought that up to one in 50 children globally have some form of autism, and this number continues to rise steadily each year. While there is no cure for the condition, the use of technology in autism treatment has grown in popularity in recent years, but the reasons for its success are only just being highlighted.

Experts are finding that simple, carefully constructed apps are enabling affected children to feel safe and communicate more readily because the software is more predictable and ordered than human interaction. Keeping all this in mind, like everything in life, access to technology is best done with a healthy serving of moderation. Games and activities that engage children in thinking skills like memory games, puzzles, spatial reasoning activities; nurturing skills such as digital pets; and creative skills – drawing, making music – are great choices to start with, empowering the future generation with a medley of options to select and move forward with. After all, as Margaret Mead said, ‘Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.’
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