Children in the Digital World – how Drama can provide fundamental developmental skills our kids can’t learn from a screen
By Jessica Pacecca for IntotheMask Theatre
Our children, the next generation, are growing up with tablets, iPhones, television and other electronic devices that provide instant access to anything stimulating at their fingertips.
It’s not their fault it’s just the world we live in.
It’s a scary prospect for parents who are bringing up children in a world saturated with digital technology;
“How much screen time is too much?”
This is a real question we have to ask ourselves every day. As a new parent I had been told to limit my son’s screen time. I decided to delve a little deeper into why this was, to better understand what it was about the digital material that was apparently ‘harming’ my child’s natural development.
The theory behind the damage of digital media
Child development experts suggest that your child’s well-being, learning and development can be hindered by too muchdaily screen time. They recommend real-life interactions in varied environmentsto better support a child’s overall social, emotional and physical development.
To read the latest guidelines from the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) on screen time follow this link: https://raisingchildren.net.au/school-age/play-media-technology/screen-time-healthy-screen-use/screen-time
The key thing I took from these guidelines is that
“Too much screen time can have an impact on children’s language development and social skills.” And that “activities including things like physical play, reading, creative play like drawing, and social time with family and friends”are what children need to aid effective development in all social and emotional areas.
Process of Learning
The other day my 18-month old son, picked up my phone tried to open it and started dancing. He wanted me to play The Wiggles. I’ve never taught him that his music comes from my phone, he simply learnt this by observing his Mama’s everyday actions.
This is exactly how our kids learn, by mimicking those around them. They learn to copy people and read peoples expressions, helping them to develop a level of empathy and understanding for others.
The brain’s frontal lobe is responsible for decoding human emotions, helping humans to take in non-verbal cues: facial expressions, tone of voice, body language. It’s this corner of the mind that we should be encouraging our children to develop, which can only be done by face to face interactions with others.
Social skills can also be actively learnt by the people surrounding the child; a parent praising the child for being kind or a teacher positively reflecting on the child’s ability to share with others. Repeating these positive reinforcements encourages the child to not only continue doing these actions but to recognise them in others as good attributes.
How Drama classes assist this development?
Free play – develops imagination
“Can we please play a game?” says every student the minute they walk into a Drama class. “Yes let’s…” is always our response as little do our students know, games in Drama are actually guided platforms for them to be free and explore their imagination. We may just be playing a game of name chase but we are getting the students thinking on their feet, building confidence, with eyes up. It’s this skill of being open in their bodies that helps them take in facial expressions around them.
Each “game” teaches a human skill: reading the room, reading others, being aware of spacial distances and developing trustworthy relationships with other like-minded kids. Real life skills that are not taught through screens.
Non-Verbal Interactions and Empathy
A key component of any Drama lesson is learning how to use non-verbal communicationto convey meaning for an audience.
We explore facial expressions, gestures, posture, proxemics and get our students thinking about how even the smallest blink of an eye or raised eyebrow, can depict a certain mood or feeling to others.
When discussing characters and asking; “How would this character feel when another character does that?” during group work, we are teaching fundamental life skills that help humans read others emotional states, and furthermore helps develop empathy. Understanding empathy in real life is something that screen time cannot provide.
Physical activity – get kids moving not just observing
Sitting behind a screen makes you stagnant, sluggish even. So, by encouraging our kids to get moving in the Drama classroom we are getting blood pumping into their little bodies and releasing some much-needed endorphins.
It’s the release of endorphins that lifts our children’s positive outlook enabling them to tackle tasks and obstacles with their entire being. Classrooms without desks or chairs to encourage movement is especially ideal in this current climate.
Increased screen time limits children’s abilities to have meaningful conversations and develop strong relationships with others.
Drama lessons are full of group activities where students have to communicate and work together to achieve common goals. The more these conversational skills are practiced the more confident your child becomes at using them in different social environments. Listening, negotiating, problem solving, observing, thinking critically, imagining, acting on impulse, reading body language, showing compassion, displaying kindness and respect.
So what can we do as parents?
As a parent myself, I know how hard it is sometimes just to get through the day. But consider
Limiting screen time and encourage storytelling at meal times– get your child understanding that screen time is a ‘sometimes’ activity. Start asking them questions to stimulate their imagination when sitting at the table, such as, ”How do you think the cartoon you were watching was made?” “Can you come up with an alternate ending for the movie?”
Encouraging imaginary play –sit with your child, ask them questions and demonstrate how to be imaginative by showing them a different side they don’t get to see every day.
Encouraging your child to participate in team activities: think about activities that encourage eye contact, negotiation skills, creativity or involve constant interaction with others. Drama class is great for this!
Regularly changing their social and physical environment –take them to different places and involve them in different activities that provide them with opportunities to interact with new people in a variety of environments. Take them to a place that you might want to learn more about too! And certainly take them to the Theatre more often!