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May 10, 2010

Motor Development Delayed by Digital Distraction

Child-tv-time In the early part of the 20th century, the prevailing theory was that children had a predetermined Intelligence Quotient (IQ) that would become evident as they matured. Then, everything changed. The Perry Preschool project launched with a goal of closing the achievement gap by introducing the closest thing to an education equalizer – prekindergarten.  And it worked!

A similar adjustment in our thinking about motor development skills is now dawning. A recent study reported in Bloomberg Business Weekly highlights a lack of motor development in at-risk preschoolers. It found that more than three fourths of 400 plus sampled disadvantaged preschool children were delayed in their motor development. The findings contradict the common maturationist belief that physical development happens naturally in children. From the study:

Goodway and colleagues tested 469 preschoolers enrolled in urban, state-funded programs for disadvantaged youth and found that 86 percent of the children were developmentally delayed in terms of basic motor skills. Girls and boys had similar scores on motor skills, but girls did much worse in object control activities, such as using a ball or a bat.


The emergence of physical health as a field of interest is based largely on the growing inactivity of all children. In the past, when kids played outside, in backyards, the streets and on school playgrounds, it was "normal" for them to develop physically along a similar trajectory. But as children have become more and more enticed by digital mediums of engagement, many are no longer developing in accordance to these "normal" pathways. Now, obesity is as common an epidemic in our country as malnourishment is in the poorest countries of the world. And our children have so many sedentary ways to entertain themselves that they are falling behind in their motor development skills.


According to the American Obesity Association, the national rate for obesity in young children is at 15 percent. Findings show that approximately one third of kids are now categorized as overweight. The causes of this issue are complex, varying from an overabundance of foods containing high-fructose corn syrup to video games and television replacing outdoor playtime. One study found that a child's risk for obesity increased 6 percent for every hour spent watching TV and catapulted to 31 percent if there was a TV in the child's room.

I don’t know about you, but the next time my son asks to watch television my answer will be, "No, but you can go outside."

 ** This piece is a follow up to our recent post on childhood fading in the light of digital interactions.

Image from: http://www.healthjockey.com/images/child-tv-time.jpg


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