John Bray

I have spent nearly 10 years of my life studying philosophy: looking at what it is that makes us the people we are. I also work in a toy shop. As a result of both of these things my views on parenting can sometimes have an unusual slant.

AppsEverywhere1 Theres no App for Building Your Childs Social Skills!Over on my toy blog I recently wrote an article about the growing trend of keeping children occupied with iPhone or tablet apps. Aside from the obvious negative effect this has on the nature of their play I also pointed out that an app cannot help a child build social skills.

What’s more (and possibly more importantly) it won’t help them bond with their family (and it definitely won’t make them feel loved). Apps, of course, have their place; there are some really nice wee diversions like angry birds and cut the rope that are a lot of fun, I’ve even come across some surprisingly good learning apps that help children pick up numeracy and literacy skills.

I think some of the problems I have with kids being stuck on apps is the fact that, for the most part, they’re solitary forms of play and they also centre around a very specific set of skills. When a parent passes that smart-phone/tablet over to their kid they are in effect pressing a pause button on any interactions they could be having with their child.

Apps are fun and exciting, even educational, what they aren’t able to do is babysit or build your child’ social skills. In order to be able to deal with a world full of human beings children need to watch and interact with other human beings.

Even if the tide turns fully and 99% of all children end up hooked on apps from the age of 4/5, that remaining 1% will potentially be at a massive social advantage, with more developped social skills..

If their peers have stunted social development then simple things like reading body language and recognising tone will place them above the other 99%. Even the most socially integrated app you can think of simply cannot familiarise a child with the subtleties and intricacies of human behaviour.

Of course children may suffer scorn from their peers for not knowing about the latest trendy app however good social abilities should help them to overcome that with ease.

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh, after all children spend loads of time with other kids at school so they’ll be picking up social skills there. However, what of their relationship with their parents?

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Maybe I’m part of a dying breed, but I really do like spending time with my kids. Yes I’ll pop them in front of the telly while I get the dishes done or the dinner made and I do let my eldest play apps on my kindle but I limit it drastically.

He gets hooked easily so I only let him play an app maybe once a week/ once a fortnight. Most of our play is imaginative; playing with figures, trains and cars and making up our own wee world.

Sometimes we’ll have a go at board games or puzzles or sit and read a book together. A long time ago I started a tradition of about half an hour of play after supper and before bed, some nights it can take the final burst of energy I have to do it but it’s never boring, I always enjoy it and it gives me the chance, for just half an hour out of my day, to just focus all my attention on my kids.

quality time21 Theres no App for Building Your Childs Social Skills!

The boys and I tested out some board games recently check out our video reviews here.

It’s not hard to do if you make a point of it; you might find it hard to find time for lunch some days at work but your body tells you to get something down you to keep you running.

Unfortunately we don’t have a similar bodily reaction when it comes to the need for time with our kids but it’s equally important.

The health of your family dwindles with every unplayed game, every unspoken conversation. When those kids hit their teens those half hours of your time will make the difference between children who talk to you and confide in you and ‘those people in your house who you feed and clothe’. My parents spent a little time with me every day when I was younger and I’m not claiming it made me a perfect person but it did add foundations for two of the best relationships I have in my life.

The hand-held app is a wonderfully diverting, sometimes educational, sometimes funny invention that we are all growing to accept as part of our day-to-day lives but we should be wary of letting it replace tried and tested forms of entertainment; especially where it brings with it the potential to erode quality time with our kids. The thrall of the app doesn’t just apply to kids playing on them either, as we see in a particular pet peeve of mine: apps at the park.

Please, please don’t play on your iPhone at the park, go give your kid a push on the swing, play in the sand pit, or chase them about a bit, angry birds, twitter and facebook can wait till they’re in bed.

Once again thanks for reading, please feel free to comment (whether you agree or disagree with me) and if you can find the time I’d love it if you popped over to my main blog here and said hello.

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