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Is Technology Robbing Children of Their Creativity?

“Creativity in children just isn’t the same anymore.”


It’s a common complaint I hear echoed from teachers across the country. “Kids just aren’t as creative as they used to be…”


And often, technology is blamed.


“All this time spent watching TV* is to blame.” {*In fact, you can insert any popular children’s technology here: using iPads or playing video games.}


And it’s not just teachers who are worried. It’s a common parent concern too.


As a parent myself, this is something that I have recently grappled with. [An interesting side note. As I type this blog post, my three year-old son has just unpacked our fruit and vegetable delivery and has turned the cardboard boxes into a train. So I figure, that his creative skills are still in tact, despite him watching TV occasionally and using the iPad.]


So is technology impacting on creativity in children?



Yes and no.


Please rest assured that I am not playing it safe and sitting on the fence on this issue.


It really does depend on how technology is being used.



As I’ve said before, technology is simply a tool. It’s neutral. It’s neither good nor bad.


When technology is used in the right ways, it can be an effective way to foster creativity in children.


As a children’s technology researcher I’ve had the privilege of watching young children use technology in incredibly creative ways.


For example, I recently watched pre-schoolers making digital stories on iPads. Yes, pre-schoolers! (And the scary thing is that it took them only 40 minutes to create a very professional looking digital story.)


I’ve also seen primary school students scripting, performing and editing their own movies.


I’ve also seen children using apps where they use technology to draw and create.



In a recent article Dr Jane Webb-Williams Talks about using technology to actually facilitate play. “I think there is too much pressure on them [parents] to limit iPads, video games and TV. Technology is just another form of play and on the whole it can be used in a positive way for learning.”


I absolutely agree. Today’s children can use technology to play and be creative in a whole new way. We are opening new doors for children and allowing new opportunities for  creative expression in children. And that’s exciting!


Toca Boca make a range of play-based apps that can be a great way to foster creativity and imagination in children.


I’ve also watched Year 2 students bring their paper-and-crayon drawings to life with an app.  Can you imagine their excitement and disbelief when their crayon drawings started speaking? See the example below.


In these instances, technology was used intentionally. Teachers and/or parents were using technology in ways that encouraged,not stifled, creativity.


The technologies chosen were open-ended. These children were not simply rote-learning facts (tap the right answer and get a gold star kind-of technology).


However, technology isn’t always used intentionally. And nor is it always used appropriately.


Sadly, the flip side often prevails. When technology is used excessively or inappropriately, then yes, creativity in children may be comprised. It’s a simple equation. The more time children spend with technology, the less time they spend off-screen, engaged in open-ended play.
For example, if children rely solely on screens for entertainment and play, then sure, their creativity is likely to be compromised. Children need time to explore and play with real objects. (I have fond memories turning a dishwasher box into a house for my Cabbage Patch dolls. Yes, I was a 1980s kid!)


There is no doubt that technology is changing childhood. Childhood today is different from our childhood. It’s digital. It’s fast-paced. And it’s often screen-based.


But just because it’s different,  doesn’t mean that technology is ‘bad’ or ‘harmful’. It just means that it’s different.


It shouldn’t be a ‘one-or-the-other’ debate.  This isn’t a black and white argument.


Yes, children can paint using apps. But they still need to paint with messy paints that will stain their clothes (and their fingers for days at a time). It doesn’t need to be one or the other. It can (and should) be both: real paints AND apps.


Children can use technology and off-screen experiences together to foster their creativity.  And that’s exciting!


That’s where the magic can happen.


In fact, technology can sometimes be the catalyst for creativity and play.


My three-year old son is often replicating experiences that he watched on Play School. He often performs puppet shows and completes craft activities after he’s watched Play School. Yes, he may have still performed puppet shows and created craft if he hadn’t watched the TV program, but perhaps his play wouldn’t have been as involved or detailed. The TV program can be a springboard for his creativity.


Whose child has spent time running around outside pretending to be an Octonaut or Dora? I believe that technology can invite and extend children’s creativity.


And this is why balance is so important, when it comes to young children and technology (I feel like I’m always harping on about balance, but it really is critical when it comes to young children and technology. Really critical.)


Digital kids still need the ‘cardboard-box’ experience.  I’m not suggesting that these important experiences get lost in this digital world.


Digital kids still need to experience wet days when they are stuck inside for hours at a time and need to create their own imaginary world with the help of a bed sheet and some chairs.


But technology can be used in ways to also help foster creativity.  It’s not all doom and gloom.


Tell me in the comments below, do you think technology is helping or harming your children’s creativity?


I’m Dr. Kristy Goodwin

Researcher, speaker, author, and mum - and not only do I GET it, I’ve dedicated my entire career to helping my fellow professionals and parents explore this exact digital dilemma.

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