The children of today are far more technologically advanced than their parents, or even older siblings. The reason for this is because they do not use the internet for educational purposes exclusively but also as a means for socialising and leisure activities. It is estimated that the average child spends over 3 hours per day on the internet instead of with their family or out in the sun playing. Even when children are outside with their friends they are often online communicating with Facebook ‘friends’ or tweeting about how boring their day is. The best iPad deals and Android tablets are getting cheaper. This has meant that children that are younger and younger are being given internet enabled devices to play with.
As one can imagine, the brain of young children is developing in a different manner to those of previous generations as a means of adapting to their new environment. Therefore it is natural that developmental psychologists are arguing as to whether or not children are beginning to function in more mature ways earlier in their developmental stages. The question of this article is to see if a 4-year-old is capable of completing and understanding the act of digital downloading. However, before contemporary arguments can be put forth one must have a vague awareness of the classical developmental theories which form the foundation of developmental psychology itself.
Piaget’s stages of development
According to the French neuroscientist turned psychiatrist Jean Piaget, a child is born as a ‘blank slate’ without any personality or knowledge thus being able to develop uncompromised. By studying his own children he formulated a development theory detailing four stages of development beginning at infancy and ending at 16 years of age. This is not to say we cease developing after this age, but merely that his theory focused on children within this age group.
Piaget felt that each stage presented with a different stage of development in cognitive operation. Children at 4 years of age fell into the second stage of development which he dubbed the ‘pre-operations stage’, a stage which lasts from approximately age 2 to age 7. Once the child reaches 7 he/she will enter the ‘concrete operational stage.’
Piaget hypothesised that in this pre-operational stage the child has moved on from experiencing the world through their senses and is introducing logical thought patterns into their behaviours and perceptions. However, this logical thought is still a far cry from the adult concept of logic as they are still very egocentric and only able to view things from their viewpoint. Gradually this behaviour will weaken and a ‘decentring’ will occur, but in the early stages it is difficult for a child to understand such concepts as sharing or patience. They cannot understand why they are not the centre of attention or why they should have to wait for something they want.
Language and writing skills cement their development in the pre-operational stage. Although one will see beginnings of this in the sensorimotor phase, it is after the age of 2 that children will start communicating and expanding their vocabulary. This is why early education is highly significant as it forms the foundation of future language abilities.
Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development
While Piaget focused on cognitive development, it was Erik Erikson who established a developmental theory based on the interaction between one’s social environment and psychological state. This is known as Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development and, contrary to Piaget, it examines development throughout life instead of childhood exclusively.
Erikson identified eight different developmental stages beginning at infancy and ending at 65 years and older. He hypothesised that an individual will experience a challenge or crisis when entering a particular developmental stage which he/she must overcome in order to successfully face the next life stage. If he/she does not complete the challenge he/she will experience psychological distress and emotional dysfunction when entering the next stage of their life.
According to Erikson, the 4-year-old would fall into the ‘play age’ CatID thus facing the third stage of development. The psychosocial crisis he/she would be experiencing is that of initiative v. guilt and the virtue to be gained if successfully overcoming this crisis is purpose.
The primary aim of this period is to engage in initiative social interaction and show a degree of self-reliance. While Erikson will agree that children do present with egocentric behaviour, he feels the child should utilise this perspective and translate it into a commanding behaviour whereby they can make confident decisions. Sometimes this confident and secure behaviour can be seen as rather aggressive which leads to parents and teachers reprimanding the child, which unfortunately has a negative effect in certain cases leading to guilty emotions and a sense of self-doubt.
As can be seen it is important for the child to engage in social activities during this period to build up their sense of initiative. Central play is incredibly important as it not only allows for secure personality development but also a development of cognitive abilities.
Can the 4-year-old brain understand downloading?
Now that we have a vague idea of the 4-year-old from a development psychology perspective we should examine what the task of downloading is. As can be seen these children are able to beginning to comprehend particular activities, despite being unable to understand abstract concepts, but is downloading an abstract concept? Let us answer this question by very briefly examining what downloading is in the text below.
What is digital downloading?
Digital downloading is the act of downloading different forms of description from the internet. While the most popular type of digital downloading is that of audio or video downloading, which is illegal if one does not pay for the description, digital downloading can also refer to the downloading of different types of software.
In order to complete this task, specifically the downloading of audio and video formats, one will require downloading software such as Bit Torrent. Unless you are downloading illegal software you will not need this programme when hitting the download button for different programmes.
So are 4-year-olds really capable of digital downloading?
Developmental psychologists argue both sides of whether or not children as young as 4-years-old can navigate the internet and complete complex tasks such as downloading online data. Through practice it may be possible to copy the task. However, a 4- year old will not have the ability to work out the process of downloading for themselves. Do make sure you get the parental control features on the devices that your child interacts with though; they can inadvertently find information or videos that you don’t want them viewing.
Sam Jones’s sister was interested in finding some of the best iPad deals. She asked him for help and within a few minutes he had logged on to sites like uSwitch to see what the top providers were offering.
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