The 3DChild strategy has developed from general observations made by school staff about the pressures that children and families face that can restrict and tempt to restrict the variety of childhood and become increasingly one-dimensional, entertainment and expression is largely through one medium alone.
The ubiquity of smartphones and tablets, pressures on family finances, the amount of quality time a family is able to enjoy and the individual circumstances each family faces can restrict the opportunities for expression, entertainment and social interaction. Each generation faces their own opportunities and difficulties in growing up, but few previous generations have to grow up with this always-on, always available situation that children can face today.
As a federation of primary schools, we recognise that 3DChild is important for us too. This is one of the key curriculum drivers for our schools, keeping the focus on the whole child and helping us to not let our attention get taken too far away by other factors.
3DChild recognises that technology is a huge driver in this temptation to become one-dimensional, but is this is not an anti-technology strategy. We want everyone to be a 3DChild, not a 1D or 2D child, so it embraces technology but keeps it in context of other beneficial activities. Technology is changing the way people work, rest and play. This has positive and negative consequences and all of us to some extent rely on devices to keep us punctual, informed and amused. This is not going to change or go away, nor should it as many parts of our lives are enriched and made far easier through technology. However, there are habits that some technology has been designed to encourage and even addict that is affecting children.
Screen time is an issue in the life of many families. From our experience, we know that use of screens, particularly in the bedroom is affecting our children’s sleep and their ability to both attend and function well at school. Parents too have asked for help at school in limiting screen time for their children. The encroachment on sleep and the encroachment on family life, the addictive and all-consuming nature of screens and technology-based entertainment are providing the conditions to create 1-dimensional children. They seek their entertainment, their social needs and their expressions through one medium and one medium alone.
We are not the first to identify this lack of 3-dimensions in children. Sue Palmer in her book, Toxic Childhood, references a publication called The App Generation by two psychologists which suggests that “young people who’ve led a largely two-dimensional existence may not develop a deep sense of their own inner selves, but instead begin to define identity in terms of an online persona.”
The excellent and helpful site, Common Sense Media, published a detailed survey of children's attitudes and use of technology which showed that there is also a narrowing of activity with each device, screen users are predominantly passive rather than active users.
It must be acknowledged that playing games and technology can be immensely creative, Minecraft in particular is driven in the main by exploration and creative construction. Watching content, playing games can have a relaxing effect on children and adults. Listening to music and audiobooks is profoundly stimulating to the mind. Communicating with others online is valuable and useful. “Online relationships can enrich a child’s social and emotional life, especially those who may be isolated in other settings.” Disrupted Childhood (p29). The report, by the 5Rights Foundation, goes on to say, “However, the persistent demands to interact often diminish the quality of relationships, levels of emotional understanding and create conflict.”
Already some parents have told us this and have asked for support in different ways to help manage family life. Technology is brilliant in so many ways, the learning and creative opportunities it provides are immense but so too are the challenges. From experience within my own family, we have played computer games together and board games together. Both can cause great fun in the family and equally argument and upset. I would challenge anyone who has played the board game Monopoly to have never been upset or have had the board chucked on the floor by a disgruntled player. However, there is an intensity and immediacy to screen-based activities that seem to accentuate negative behaviours that occur when any enjoyable activity is interrupted through external or internal factors, be it losing or dying in a game, or being stopped because you must eat or go to bed.
“These mixed messages – that children are simultaneously in charge, that they are unsafe and they must have digital skills – leave many parents confused. Neither separately nor together, do they account for the full range of opportunities on offer, nor the difficulties that the digital environment presents for children…” Disrupted Childhood (p13).
The Disrupted Childhood report highlights persuasive design as one of the issues that is causing the difficulties families are experiencing. “The products and services we use habitually alter our everyday behaviour, just as their designers intended. Our actions have been engineered.” Nir Eyal.
Various behavioural and psychological hooks are used to keep adults and children engaged on a particular online platform or game. Infinite scrolling, clickbait, loot boxes etc. function to keep us interacting. “It is unreasonable to design services to be compulsive and then reprimand children for being preoccupied with their devices.” Disrupted Childhood (p5). Adults as well as children have difficulty in maintaining a healthy balance with technology, it is not purely down to self-control there are advanced psychological techniques at play that mean it is entirely natural that coming off devices is difficult.
Good advice given from a variety of sources (RCPCH, BBC, Children's Sleep Charity) is to switch off screens an hour before bedtime. This is right and healthy to do, but typically this advice leaves a void. Switch off the screen, but what do you fill the time with. Without something to do, the compulsive pull of devices will leave an itch that you long to scratch.
“We are entering unprecedented territory when it comes to parenting children in the digital world… The research is growing but still lags behind the rapid pace of technological development. What is clear, however is that we have to understand each child’s developmental needs in order to truly get to grips with the opportunities, as well as the risks, of digital engagement… The increase in digital play in this age group means that pre-schoolers are engaging in different types and quantity of pretend play, with, as yet, unknown consequences.” Dr Angharad Rudkin, Children’s Clinical Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society Disrupted Childhood (p32).
Children’s positive and negative use of technology affects the majority of families. They can be struggling in substantial ways to manage behaviour and screens can be a strong contributing factor. The 3DChild strategy is our response to a need that we are seeing and hearing and one that does effect the equilibrium of life and the well-being of the child. We see the negative effects of behaviours in school and this is an attempt to support families in broadening the behaviours of their children.
At school level, we are not able to persuasively lobby or affect technology companies, but we are able to educate and influence children. Providing and incentivising families and children with opportunities to use technology healthily and constructively, to provide ideas and activities for variety in a child’s life both on and off devices, at school and at home. 3DChild seeks to provide suggestions and incentives to fill these voids, to provide alternatives to screen-based activities, to provide alternative things you might do positively with a screen.
Our concern is that a 1-dimensional child seeks their entertainment, expression and social needs primarily through one medium, however a 3-dimensional child seeks their entertainment, expression and social needs through a variety of experiences and we have created this strategy in response to this, accessible to all.
The strategy is symbolised through the 3DChild cube, each facet standing for a different aspect of life that together express something of the height, breadth and depth of childhood. These are: create; energise; explore; imagine; relax; socialise
It must be stressed that this is not coming from an anti-screen, anti-video game, anti-social media agenda. 3DChild recognises that people have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy communicating with social media, playing and being immersed in different games and watching a wide range of content through the myriad of video providers. However, we believe that this isn’t the be-all-and-end-all for children. The 3DChild strategy would look to incorporate online and technological suggestions for each of the facets, yet would always keep in mind that this is part of a much bigger picture. We are not seeking to make children 2-dimensional and therefore exclude technology from this strategy.
It is also important to acknowledge that this is not a recent phenomenon; children and adults can be drawn to 1-dimensionality in a wide variety of ways, for example the child that is mad about football, they think about it all the time, they play in teams and games, they attend matches and watch on the tv, they find out about their favourite teams and players and can have an encyclopaedic knowledge over the smallest details of the game. We recognise that any activity done to excess can have negative consequences, yet the ubiquity and immediacy of content and experience through online devices means that without self-control or input from a third-party things can develop and intensify in a very short space of time.
This immediacy and availability of online devices means that children are often impatient to be able to play and experience what others are doing, especially from older role models. Children are skipping very wholesome and worthwhile games, apps and sites that are more suitable and enjoyable for their age-group in favour of playing games with the most current amount of fame or infamy regardless of the age categorisation or content. Children and adults can thoughts can be dominated, even to obsession on one particular game or platform and through this strategy, we are asking, if they are engaging with one thing intensively, what else are they missing out on?
“The capacity for boredom is the single most important development of childhood. The capacity to self-soothe, go into your mind, into your imagination. Children who are constantly being stimulated by a phone don’t learn how to be alone, and if you don’t teach a child how to be alone, they will always be lonely,” Professor Sherry Turkle.
Childhood is a wonderful time of learning, developing and exploration. It is wonderful to see a child try new things, develop their gifts, find new hobbies, talents and entertainments in a wide range of things. To see them strengthen their resilience, be able to self-soothe and flourish in their cognitive, social and emotional development. In seeking to champion, celebrate and value the variety of childhood, we have developed the strategy of 3DChild.