Failure To Connect

By: Jane M. Healy Ph.D.

Reviewed By: Jon Henshaw, M.A.

Failure To Connect
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The Information Age introduced many significant communication tools into our lives. These tools have helped us communicate instantly. For example, the telephone has allowed us to have real-time conversations with people anywhere in the world, and televisions have allowed us to view historical events as they've happened. However, the most powerful communication tool today is a computer connected to the Internet.

Many parents and educators worry about the effect that these tools will have on children's minds. Although there isn't much concern about telephones, there has been a lot of concern around the television. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) put out an advisory entitled, "Television and the Family." In it, the AAP outlined new recommendations for toddlers.

Until more research is done about the effects of TV on very young children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend television for children age 2 or younger. For older children, the Academy recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours per day of educational, nonviolent programs.

With the onset of computers, at home and in the classroom, many parents and educators are turning their attention away from televisions, and towards computers. Computers are vastly becoming the über communication tool of choice for many families and schools. Computers are able to go well beyond the archaic technology of the telephone, and the one-way interaction of a television. In fact, they allow users to interact with other people in a variety of ways (voice, text, video), and enable them to turn one-way viewing into interaction.

Jane M. Healy, Ph.D., an educational psychologist and professional educator for more than thirty-five years, has taken on the challenge of discovering how computers affect our children - for better and worse. In her book, Failure to Connect, she first explores the current state of home and school computing, and sifts through the hype and hope these tools promise. In the second section, she looks at the influence computers have on children's health, brain development, and emotional, social and personal aspects. The last section incorporates research and suggestions regarding the best time to introduce computers to children.

The author does a excellent job of distinguishing the difference between how children interact with traditional technology, and how they interact with computers. She offers this vignette from an eleven-year-old student:

Reading books is boring and it takes too long. Searching the Web is faster and more fun because we can get sound recordings, like of a dolphin's sounds, or a video of the discovery of the bow of the Titanic.

Dr. Healy's approach towards children and computers is practical. She realizes that computers are here to stay, and that good or bad, children will be using computers. Because of this reality, she's focused her attention towards the best way a child can use a computer. For example, she offers tips, like "How to choose the best software," and "Guidelines for using software."

One of the things that I found interesting her book was her writing on "hyper" learning. Computers combine both hypertext and hypermedia, and therefore stimulates both hemispheres of the brain. The author suggests:

...when students develop multimedia projects and presentations - within carefully structured academic parameters - we see some of the more engaging uses of the technology.

Overall, the book seemed to have a lot of bits and chunks of information spread all over the place. Although the information was interesting, on occasion it seemed somewhat disorienting. Nonetheless, the real value of the book are the tips and lists. As with most busy parents, they just want to get to the good stuff. An example of the good stuff can be found halfway into the book, where she lists "Practical Tips for Improving Attention." Many parents know that computers, just like television, own their children's attention. So, giving tips like this one, can be priceless for parents struggling to gain the attention of their child.

Failure to Connect is full of research, quotes, and helpful information, and the book delivers what parent's are seeking - help in understanding how computers affect their child's mind, for better and worse.

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