Wondering if your child’s tablet or computer use is affecting their fine motor development? You’re not alone. Even professionals in the field of occupational therapy have differing opinions on the effect of technology on fine motor skills.
There may not be a one size fits all approach to answering this question. So let’s take a look at some of the information we do have as well as the pros and cons of digital technologies for fine motor development.
How Does Technology Affect Fine Motor Skills?
Because of advances in technology, kids are getting more screen time than ever before. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children ages 8 to 18 get an average of 7.5 hours of screen time each day.
Understandably, parents and health professionals are concerned about how excessive amounts of screen time may be affecting children’s overall health. While studies often focus on issues like obesity, it makes sense that fine motor skills could be affected as well.
What are fine motor skills?
Fine motor skills involve using the muscles of the hands, wrists, and fingers to make movements. These skills help us to complete a variety of daily activities, including:
- Creative expression
- Getting dressed
Using computers and other digital technologies does require the use of some fine motor skills. For instance, moving the mouse, clicking, and typing all require coordinated movements of the fingers, wrists, and hands. However, while these movements require coordination and dexterity, they do little to build strength.
Pros and Cons of Technology Use for Fine Motor Development
There have been several studies on the effect of touch screen use and fine motor development in young children. But even these studies often have contradictory results. Some seem to point to improved motor skills with tablet use, while others suggest an advantage to limiting the use of tablets and other touch screens.
Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of technology use for fine motor development.
Technology and the use of mobile devices are now an important skill in our daily lives. Since children will be using computers and tablets in school, some familiarity with these devices will help them to succeed academically.
There are also some advantages to using technology in a supervised setting. Parents can monitor their children’s tablet use and choose educational apps and games to their child’s advantage. The appeal of some of these apps can help to motivate your child to work on skills they might otherwise not spend time on.
One study found tablet use to improve fine motor skills in preschool children. This tablet use was often alongside a parent and didn’t exceed recommended daily screen time recommendations.
It’s important to limit screen time as well as the use of tablets, phones, and other devices. While we’re moving toward a more digital world, fine motor skills are still important for a variety of activities, like writing, scissor use, creative expression, and completing daily tasks.
Children who struggle with fine motor skills often need to work on building strength in the muscles of their hands. They may need to work on their pincer grasp or pencil grip to be able to keep up in school. This is where the use of digital technology often falls short—and could even negatively impact fine motor skills in those who become reliant on texting or typing.
Another study found that touch-screen tablet use had a negative effect on fine motor development. In this study, children used a touch-screen tablet for 60 minutes a week. The study doesn’t state whether parents were present during tablet use.
The bottom line is that there isn’t a one size fits all approach when it comes to technology use and fine motor skills. For some children, apps and games can be a helpful tool for improving fine motor development as well as other skills like visual-motor skills and sensory integration. But it’s important not to depend too much on these technologies or let them interfere with developing other important skills.
While we can’t escape our increasingly digital world, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to technology use and fine motor skills:
- Follow screen time recommendations appropriate for your child’s age. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting screen time to an hour or less each day. This is important not just for fine motor skills, but your child’s overall health and well-being.
- Consider the quality of apps or games used. Not all technology is bad for your child. If your child is watching a video on how to draw a favorite character, they’ll be working on their fine motor skills. Certain apps and games can also be helpful for developing motor skills.
- Offer plenty of opportunities for motor development. While it’s okay to use tablets and other mobile devices, make sure your child has plenty of opportunities to play and create screen-free. Drawing, coloring, and even playing with LEGOs or other toys can be great for fine motor skill development.
“Hi! My name is Lydia and I’m a freelance writer who specializes in parenting and education. I have a bachelor’s degree in English and worked as a teacher and tutor before deciding to stay home full-time with my two young children. As a mom, I’m passionate about early childhood education and am always looking for fun and practical ways to teach my kids at home.”