How Computers Make Our Kids Stupid

This is a bit more strong and alarmist than I personally view the situation, but it’s still a darn interesting article from Macleans Magazine:
How computers make our kids stupid
by Sue Ferguson
There’s growing evidence that too much cyber-time dumbs down our children
The first thing you notice opening the door to Les Black’s classroom is the smell. It’s a dank, earthy aroma from a dozen planters perched on shelves or suspended from the ceiling. Sunlight filters through a row of wood-framed windows onto the 27 fourth-graders. A boy standing at the front relates the story of his grandfather’s life, impressing upon his audience that the old man did not always act within the letter of the law. His classmates squirm in their seats. Some fiddle with pencils. One boy thoughtfully caresses a papier m�ch� snake resting on his desk. Behind the presenter is a chalkboard and, above it, the age-old series of placards displaying the alphabet, exquisitely drawn in cursive form.


This scene in a private school in the Toronto suburb of Thornhill is not unlike thousands of others across Canada. But wait a minute — something is strangely amiss. Where are the keyboards? Where are the darkened screens framed by dull grey plastic? The tangle of cables cascading over the backs of the tables? How strange: a classroom without a gigabyte in sight, not even on the teacher’s desk. How will these children ever get a job? How will their teachers ever instill in them a love of learning?
It’s never been easier for kids to get their fingertips on a keyboard or to cruise cyberspace. Statistics Canada reports three out of four households with school-aged children regularly access the Internet, and a growing number of users are turning to high-speed connections. Our schools now have about a million computers, 93 per cent of which are online. Although we already boast a 5:1 ratio of students to computers (compared to an average of 8:1 in the developed world as a whole), the push is on in many districts to equip each middle- and high-school student with a wireless laptop. With homes and classrooms crawling with mouses and modems, anyone resisting the digital impulse seems either hopelessly naive or in a state of downright denial.
Yet, in bucking the trend…
Continue reading at Macleans…
What’s your take on this? Do you think computers are that heinous?

13 comments on “How Computers Make Our Kids Stupid

  1. I think there is a balancing act that all parents do, and computers DO play a role in the home and with children. The key is monitoring the computer and limiting the amount of time any and all family members have on the computer. Computers are this generations blessing and curse…

  2. If anything, computers play a postive role on the children of the near future. Even games develop some parts of the brain which outdoor activities can’t. You would have to be retarded to think computers “ruin” brains and make children stupid. Your probably just one of those mothers like mine that believe all kids do on the computer is waste their time on “useless” games and Chat Messengers. There may be kids out there that actually do that; but I am for sure not one of those kids. For this, you are stereotyping the minority of children and discriminating agianst the majority.
    This is what I believe in computers, since I have the freedom of speech in Canada I may speak my mind.
    Ever since I got a computer in my room from grade 7 onto this year when I got it taken away for “abusing” the privilage. My school marks have gone up from 80% average to this years 89% average in grade 9. Even though all my mother mentioned is me playing games for the time I spent on the computer…. I didn’t.
    For this comment, I speak out of my own mind and from personal expierence with this “issue”.

  3. I know of a fair few people who undervalue computers, always assuming they are a “toy” because thats what they perceive them as.
    You find however that children do tire of games and while the computer starts as just a toy you eventually learn of its many other uses.
    A friend of mine is 15 and he wouldnt have a computer if it wasnt for one he loans off of me. His mother just sees it as a toy but in fact he spends most of his time writing websites and other creative things.
    Many kids these days use computers and the Internet as another social venue, in a world where parents are increasing paranoid about their childrens safety is there any wonder. Its harder and harder for kids to play outside due to parents fears and so the computer is the new street corner, but I digress.
    There may be kids which only play games on computers, but equally so there are kids who ONLY sit and watch TV. Someone who is active will be active regardless of if they have a computer or not. The computer is just a more creative medium to what was available before and I for one think its very useful for children, or anyone else for that matter.

  4. There is something dreadfully frustrating about this — because it is partly right and partly wrong, and it is horribly hard to pick out which is which.
    At their best, computers and their associated networks are ultimate cognitive prostheses, and therefore directly relevant to education as both subject and object.
    But effective use of this technology is predicated on a number of innate capabilities, such as self-discipline and critical thinking skills. Consider the analogy of driving a car — we don’t teach children how to do it, even though by their early teens, many have the appropriate motor skills. The reason is simple — driving a car is dangerous, for all concerned, and requires a certain set of [perhaps very nebulously defined] attitudes before we collectively think it is “safe” to allow someone to learn to drive a car and actually be licenced to do it.
    This analogy has application to computing and networking. A large part of the problem is that the environment is so vast, protean, and labile that it is hard to construct appropriate coping responses. I don’t have any answers here, really, but I do think the question is serious, significant, and without an effective final resolution at present.
    Incidentally, it may not be obvious, but I teach information technology at the university level, so I am not exactly free of bias here.

  5. Everything in moderation, I believe. I can’t get a PA because young people are too heavily into spellchecks—and I need someone who has a proper command of the English language. By all means, computerize—but let’s equip our kids with some of the basics first. So if there’s a power failure, we can still keep things working away.
       Many of Americans reading this missed out on the reality TV series from England, called That’ll Teach ’Em. Thirty 16-year-old kids, expected to get good grades, are put into the setting of a 1950s English boarding school. In the first episode, they were given an 11-year-old’s math exam. Seventeen of the kids failed it. Why? No calculators, no basics.
       The calculator might not be a bells-and-whistles PC, but it’s a computing device nonetheless. We see kids in Asia doing darned well without them. And yet when they have access to computers, they exceed the abilities of those who take them for granted. If I understand him correctly, Mr Oxley above has a point with his driving analogy: when one’s skills get to a certain point, it may be appropriate (societally) to allow that person access to the computer to take over some of their tasks. You might learn how to do square roots on paper, and once you have got the technique sorted, then arm yourself with the calculator. You learn how to spell first, after which you can use the spellcheck.

  6. Actually, Jack, when I was younger I used those things to my advantage instead of as a crutch. The computer would constantly remind me of my grammatical and spelling errors and I would just get sick and tired of it popping up and telling me I got it wrong. So what did I do? I took the computer’s hint and learned it the right way. True some people talk online in what seems to be their own language with “u” replacing “you” and et cetera, but not everyone on the internet who is young does that.
    I’ve been on computers since I was 8. I learned my first programming language at 10. I had mastered C/++ (disputibly the most difficult useful language to learn) at the age of 14. I now have my A++ and MCSE certifications and am going to a job where I’ll be making 85k a year. I’m not boasting. I’m demonstrating how a computer can positively affect a young child. If the child is pushed to pursue the more valuable aspects of computers. If they are taught to program on it instead of to merely use the programs that come with it, then you have an entirely different ballpark. It becomes a unique learning device. One that reacts to the way they are learning. Programming teaches cause and effect, consequences, fluidity, and many other abilities absolutely necessary for life as an adult. It sparks their creative minds by allowing them a vast and unlimited playing field where they can create and manipulate things to their hearts content. It teaches children boundaries and rules, syntax and even the basics for learning foreign languages. In every programming language, there is one simple rule. Follow the syntax and grammar of the language or else your program won’t even run. Follow the rules or you get no result. No one understands you if you don’t speak their language.
    I think children should be taught at least one programming language in early life for these reasons. Not to mention it is an absolutely wonderful skill that employers look for and a job field that won’t be diminishing any time soon.

  7. It depends upon how the computer is used. Give them a game like LOGO in which they write programs to draw pictures, and they learn something valuable. In fact they learn lots of things that are valuable, such as logical reasoning (something which most people sorely lack) and problem solving skills, and organization. etc..
    But give them a game like doom, and they might learn a limited set of coordination skills and maybe some problem solving skills. But mostly what they learn are destructive and violent behaviors. But more impartantly what they learn is to be a consumer of the computer, in a very passive way.
    From my observation, children are mostly taught to use computers as passive consumers; it’s not much different than tv.
    Now I grew up with computers and when I was 12 I was writing programs in assembly language and had learned boolean algrebra. Because that’s all there was…. and I had a blast! writing a program and watching it run was the biggest game in town! And I went on to have a career in computers.
    But recently I was with some children who were consumers of computers… and tried to interest them in learning how to write programs. I got nowhere with it. They were perfectly content to have everything provided for them and to be passive consumers of programs, they expressed not the least bit of interest in learning how the computers worked.
    Now my sample size was rather small, so it may not be resonable to draw conclusions from this, but it is worth considering.

  8. I very much have to disagree-I’m a tenth grader, and i have my own computer in my room with cable broadband and unlimited downloads, and I’ve had it since year 3. I don’t procrastinate immensely on it. I use my computer for music, occasionaly to chat, sometimes for entertainment such as stories, but mainly to access information for school use and personal interest. I reckon my computer is an invaluable learning tool. It’s not the fault of computers that kids act stupid, it’s their parents who don’t bring them up properly, and who don’t instill in their kids a sense of responsibility and a love of learning and of leading a healthy, wholesome life.

  9. People really over react when it comes to games such as doom. Playing violent games don’t make children violent. It’s the children, not the games that are at fault for that. In the past, people never over analysed things as much as they do today. We’ll blame anything and everything for society’s present problems-such as doom. And i totally understand how an ignorant person might come to such a conclusion, being inexperienced in such matters. How ever, don’t diss it till you try it, ignoramus! Maybe then you’ll see that if adults used more common sense, particularly parents who need to check parenting websites, coz they suck at parenting that very much, they’ll have more success in bringing up happy, healthy, smart, possibly athletic and artistic children.

  10. Serra, you were doing really well with your commentary until you got so darn judgmental. The parents that are trying to be the best they can be are the best parents out there, because they can learn from their mistakes and be inspired by other parents and other parenting styles. No-one is a great parent, and it’s a darn tough job.
    Don’t you learn from other people, or are you so confident in yourself that you just steamroll along, without any concern about how you come across, how others perceive you, whether you’re making a favorable impression, whether you’re acting in a manner that’s consistent with your ethics and beliefs?
    And for the record, there’s been hard scientific data for at least the last 50 years demonstrating that when children are exposed to aggression that they become more aggressive too.

  11. Computers have made high school students lazier. They are so used to information popping up instantly, that they don’t want to have to actually read it and understand it for themselves. Attention spans are shrinking. Plagiarism is rampant because it is too easy to just cut and paste someone else’s work into your own.
    I know that I am hopelessly old-fashioned. I love the computer for research and writing too, but I still prefer books!

  12. I’ve been lurking for a little while, but this is something I feel strongly about, so I’m sufficiently prompted to comment. 🙂
    I think classroom lectures are an important part of learning—the most important part, aside from a willingness to learn—as they call for listening skills, note-taking, and the responsibility of arranging to borrow notes when one wasn’t present one’s self. A child learns to see and hear someone, tuning out distraction and taking instruction.
    Regarding recreation, I’ll back AC: it all depends on the use of the computer. I spend a lot of time on the computer, and have since my family had its first one. I can’t program worth a gnat, but when I was younger I would play in Paint, attempting to illustrate silly little stories that I typed up. Later, when we had internet, I would look up things to read; poetry, short stories, and novels. (I remember reading The Island of Dr. Moreau for the first time after a successful google for the full text.) When I discovered wikipedia, I was delighted, and while it’s true that a lot of wiki’d information won’t stick the first time through an article, more and more will when you’re back to reread.
    I’m in university now, still writing with a very good friend met on the internet over eight years ago. (One, even, who I’d visited in person for the second time just this summer.) We write, most of the time, and sometimes we turn to google or wikipedia to research what we’re writing. Files are sent back and forth on a daily basis during cooperative projects.
    We’ve both learned a lot, met wonderful people, and improved a great deal at prose. Computers can be every bit as bad as TV, it’s true, but they can also be every bit as benign as a blank sheet of paper. There’s the potential for harm and for help; put the things to use pursuing interests where it’s appropriate, and answer ‘What is appropriate?’ by asking ‘Is this an active use’?
    Passive consumption is one thing, and constructive use-as-a-tool is another.
    I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to talk so long!

  13. I think that if you don’t allow your kids to be interested in computers that it will only hurt them in the future. Parents though need to watch what their kids are doing and make sure it is a learning situation not a dangerous one.
    I have 3 kids 14, 9, and 4. I have found some great sites that allow them to play and learn at the same time.
    For those of you with grade school kids should really check out http://www.k5stars.com/parents1.php You can create an account for your kids and assign them games to play. The site even gives you a report on how well they did!

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