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Little ones ahead of the game on digital

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: August 08, 2014

Children and technology now comes hand in hand.

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SIX-year-olds have a better understanding of how to use digital technology than people in their late forties who have been using it for years, a new study has shown.

These tech-savvy tiny folk have grown up in a world of smart phones, tablets and games, and that constant exposure reveals itself in the fact they can pick up an iPad and mess around with it with no hesitation whatsoever.

Unsurprisingly, their skills grow as they head into their teenage years, with the level of skill – the digital quotient, as it has been termed – rising gradually and peaking at around 14-15. But as young adults blow out the candles on their 20th birthday cake, their capacity for using digital skills begins to rapidly decrease.

These findings may not be surprising to parents who have been technologically trumped by their offspring for years, but to some, the idea of young people leading these increasingly digital lives is a concern.

Father-of-four Mark Disney, who lives in Hilton, said he worries about the social implications of his sons spending all their time on their phones and games consoles.

"I think it's a bit of a double-edged sword.

"The technology is good as it can help kids learn faster and learn more. You can do so much with technology and it's great, but it can make kids anti-social, as they will spend all their time on it chatting on Facebook or BBM or whatever.

"I think it can lead to some kids struggling with talking face-to-face," he told the Mail.

The study, conducted by communications regulator Ofcom, showed that some teenagers spend an incredible 14 hours on their phones and tablets – they spend more of the day chatting, sending pictures and sharing content on social media than they do sleeping.

Mr Disney said it was often difficult to tear his youngsters, who have not yet hit their teenage years, away from mobile devices and games consoles, to interact with the wider world.

Darren Wileman, one of the adults who runs Donisthorpe Youth Club, said he could not agree more with these concerns.

He said: "The kids spend so much time on their phones. I think it's Facebook more than anything.

"I think it has quite a lot of impact on them socially, as they go into certain groups that stick together and don't really mingle. They just sit on their phones together."

Mr Wileman and his colleagues are among the groups around the area trying to offer youngsters something to do with their time which takes them away from the potentially isolating digital world.

"It can be scary when you think about how shut off they are. We try to give them opportunities to do other things and teach them skills for life," he added.

The propensity for youngsters and teenagers towards a life dominated by digital has been put down to the fact that they have literally never known any different.

Children born in the years following the turn of the millennium have probably never experienced the familiar screech of connection and glacially slow operating speeds of dial up internet, and, instead, have always had broadband at their fingertips. Not only that, it has been accessible.

Where toddlers once looked pleadingly at a set of car keys to play with, they now hold their hands out for Mummy or Daddy's smartphone – and they know exactly how to use it to find what they want.

There is no doubt that this high level of knowledge at a young age prepares youngsters for a life filled with technological advances, and that can only be a good thing, according to one teacher the Mail spoke to.

Julie Fern, who is the deputy head teacher at Belmont Primary School, in Swadlincote, said the technology which youngsters used in school helped them to develop a set of skills different to those in traditional education.

"It makes learning more interactive for the children and lets them do things in a different way.

"I think the increase in the use of technology is a positive change.

"We are training the children for tomorrow's world, and the more skilled they are at using this equipment, the better.

"The young ones just take to it, and they have never known any different than the instant results they get with digital technology," she told the Mail.

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