September 21, 2001, Chandigarh, India
Should parents say ‘yes’ to computer games?
Children’s sport is no longer innovative
Should parents say ‘yes’ to computer games?
ANIT Kapur is complaining. And she has every reason to. Says she, "My son, who is 14, comes back from school and immediately switches on the computer to play crazy computer games. I ask him to go out and play with his friends but he does not step out of the house."
Anita is one of the many mothers who is keen to have her children play and interact with others their age rather than sit in front of a computer. But there are others who think differently. Says Seema Moorty, mother of a teenager, "I think computer games which teach and let children enjoy themselves while they learn are not bad. They allow for a new and different way of learning, which cannot have a negative effect."
Kapur and Moorty signify the two opposing points of view when it comes to children and computer games. To make matters worse, ongoing research on the subject across the world too is coming up with contradictory conclusions.
Two studies by psychologists Craig Anderson and Karen Dill published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology look at the effects of violent computer games in the lab and in real life. Their findings include the fact that students in both the groups became more aggressive and violent after they had just lost a computer game. Incidentally, these aggressive tendencies were found to be stronger in girls than in boys.
Another feature published in The Observer reports on a new study conducted by Ryuta Kawashima, a professor at Tohoku University in Japan who specialises in brain imaging. This study concludes that addiction to computer games can affect a child's overall development.
Kawashima used a new technique in computer imaging which records those areas of the brain which are used when a person is involved in any activity. He then compared brain activity in children playing computer games with brain activity in children doing an exercise called the Kraepelin Test. This test involves adding single digit numbers continuously for 30 minutes.
The results: those playing computer games were using those parts of the brain which are associated with vision and movement, while those undergoing the Kraepelin Test had much greater activity throughout the left and right hemispheres of the frontal lobe. These areas of the brain are associated with learning, memory, emotions and impulse control.
Discussions are now going on to find out whether this experiment can be relied on totally. Moreover, questions are also being raised about comparing those who are playing computer games with those involved in the Kraepelin Test.
The arguments against using the Kraepelin Test are elementary — it is quite simple to add single digit numbers and it does not require much brainpower. So what about more complex activities like making friends, interacting with others and learning to do things together?
Professor Kawashima is quoted by The Observer as saying that soon we will have a generation of children — who play computer games — which we have 'never seen before'. Kawashima adds that the implications of this are very serious for an increasingly violent society and these children will be doing more and more negative things if they are playing computer games and not engaged in other activities like reading aloud or learning arithmetic.
Understandably, the software industry disagrees with Kawashima's interpretation of his findings. They feel that the industry has been the target of ill-informed criticism and that computer games allow all age groups to bring about a balance between learning and leisure activities.
The computer games industry has its point of view; and academicians will continue to discuss and try and improve their experiments even as neurologists will try and improve their test equipment. But all this research is placing parents in a tricky situation — do they let their children play games or do they stop them? Is it healthier to play outdoors or is it all right to sit in a room for hours concentrating on a game?
One message, however, is clear: It is
important to limit children's play time on the computer. And there is
need for more research on the impact that addiction to computer games
can have on children. Until then, parents will have to decide on their
own whether computer games are good for their children or not. WFS
Children’s sport is no longer innovative
I saw a group of children playing Holi this year with fancy plastic syringes bought off the shelf from some toy store. There were a large variety of them, of different shapes and colours, and some were connected hydraulically to backpacks that held the coloured liquid. And then I thought of our times when we had to rig our own apparatus. Hollow bamboo was sawn in small sections. Each of these had only one knot at the end. Through this a hole for the water to squirt out was punctured. A stick with a piece of cloth tied to it was the piston. And, hey presto, we had a pichkari ready.
Admittedly, the contraption did not last very long and the jet of water was not very powerful either. But, at least, we had the pride of doing it ourselves. If the pusher failed, we could fix it ourselves. That is what is missing from the hi-tech toys of today. Buy them, use them and throw they away. The thrill of creating something with your own hands is gone.
The distinctive feature of children’s games of yesteryear was improvisation, using native ingenuity and whatever else was readily available. If cricket had to be played, we did not wait for a regular bat. The takhti used to practise writing was good enough. No fancy gadgets were required to set up a game of marbles, which no one seems to play any more. A little recess would be dug in the ground and we were in business. Or geete for the girls, for which the only equipment needed was five pebbles from the roadside.
The mango plant was a particular source of joy and not only because of its fruit. It was the most suitable of all for climbing up. If not the tree, the saplings that grew wild could be pulled out and the stone in its root rubbed clean of all fibre. And then a small opening would be ground at one end to turn it into a piercing whistle.
In the rabi season, the ears of the wheat plant became the instrument of a very irritating prank. The dynamics of its bristles are such that if it is slid down the back of anyone’s shirt, or up the trouser leg, it can never be pulled back. It has to go down, or up, all the way and come out in somewhat embarrassing circumstances.
Nirad C. Chaudhri recalls of his school days in his Autobiography of an Unknown Indian: "The best part of the pleasure of walking was to feel one’s bare feet sinking in the dust, just as the keenest edge of the joy of kicking, that activity so natural in children and so essential for them, was in raising dust as high as the head."
Fifty years ago when I was a student in Jalandhar, the tyranny of heavy homework and time-bound school transport was unknown. Time was no constraint. From Government School on Ladowali Road to home in Civil Lines, one could loiter timelessly through the fields "kicking dust", as Nirad Babu would say.
Around this time mechanical gadgets and wind-up toys had also come into circulation. The bicycle was a particular source of joy. It gave mobility a new meaning. If the junior size was not available, one used the adult machine with one leg reaching out for the pedal on the far side from under the horizontal bar. One learnt to ride not with the help of wheeled props, but the hard way, after taking some nasty falls.
No less innovative was the manner of announcing the acquisition of a new bicycle. Flattening an empty cigarette pack and attaching it to the rear brake clamp did this. As the spokes of the wheel struck the hard board of the pack in quick succession, it created a racket that could match, decibel for decibel, the sound of any phutphatia.
Today a battery-operated siren does the
job of the empty cigarette pack. Games come neatly packaged, with
printed circuits and push buttons, and precise instructions on how to
use them. It is not that they are not entertaining, but children are
losing out on the use of their inventive skills and the elements that
nature provides freely. They are, except from some regulated sports in
schools, missing the great outdoors. Amusement is a different ball game
with the television screen figuring ominously large in it. In the
cities, there are no dusty tracks to waddle across. No roadside trees to
scamper up. And no time for activities "so natural in children and
so essential for them."
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