Kids have trouble holding pencils, due to so much time on iPads

students on iPad at school
CC BY 2.0 Brad Flickinger

Experts say that children lack the muscle strength required to write.

Children spend so much time swiping iPad screens that they cannot hold a pencil anymore. Senior paediatricians in the United Kingdom say that many children start school lacking the muscle strength to grip a pencil, which affects their ability to learn how to write properly. Sally Payne, head paediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust, told The Guardian:

"Children are not coming into school with the hand strength and dexterity they had 10 years ago. Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly not able to hold it because they don’t have the fundamental movement skills."

Developing finger, arm, and shoulder strength is something that happened naturally in the past, when children drew, colored, cut paper and did crafts for entertainment and participated more actively in household chores. But the spread of handheld devices has changed the nature of play. As Payne said,

"It's easier to give a child an iPad than encouraging them to do muscle-building play such as building blocks, cutting and sticking, or pulling toys and ropes. Because of this, they're not developing the underlying foundation skills they need to grip and hold a pencil."

While some may say that handwriting belongs to an antiquated education system and is no longer relevant to today's texting, typing generation, this problem goes beyond not being able to form words on paper. This shows that kids' actual physical development is being stunted by too much sedentary screen-swiping, and that's very alarming. If a child's hand isn't strong enough to hold a pencil, imagine how weak their entire body must be, if the child has spent that much time sitting still, rather than running around the backyard or climbing trees.

Nor should we be so quick to write off handwriting as a useless skill. Even if we do not write on paper as much as we used to, subjects like math and geography and art will always require the use of one's hand, particularly in early years. And who knows what schools will be like by the time today's kindergarteners reach university. Some lecture halls are banning laptops from classrooms, not only because they're distracting, but also because students are known to retain information better if it's copied down by hand. As one commenter wrote,

"Let's also not forget that the teaching of writing is important for learning based on neuro-imaging and brain mapping. I'm currently learning a language and I have to write down my exercises, otherwise the grammar won't stick."

This is a curious hand-brain connection that I suspect most mature students would confirm exists. I have certainly experienced it myself while studying at university and learning languages while abroad.

In the meantime, let's not fail our children by allowing them to fritter away their early years of life in front of captivating screens. Such devices do make parents' lives easier, but ultimately they worsen a child's quality of life. Toss the iPad in the electronic recycling bin (or pass it on with adequate warning!) and let the kids be kids, boredom and all.

Related Content on Treehugger.com