February 28, 2018 3:29 pm
Updated: February 28, 2018 4:19 pm

Kids have trouble holding pencils because of digital devices, experts say

WATCH: Is writing with a pencil a dying skill?

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Kids are finding it increasingly challenging to hold a pencil because they spend most of their time on digital devices, some pediatricians have warned.

It can be jarring to see a toddler instinctively swipe a screen (any screen) in an attempt to unlock it, and doctors in the U.K. believe that all that time tapping and swiping is actually preventing them from developing the muscle memory needed for holding a pencil and writing.

READ MORE: Kids under 2 should have no screen time. These ones get up to 30 minutes a day: study

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“Children are not coming into school with the hand strength and dexterity they had 10 years ago,” Sally Payne, head pediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust, said to The Guardian. “Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly not able to hold it because they don’t have the fundamental movement skills.”

The article also mentions Patrick, a six-year-old who is working with an occupational therapist because his teacher noted that he held his pencil like “cavemen held sticks.” His therapist is helping him to develop the strength in his index finger to hold a pencil in what is described as the “correct tripod grip.”

“To be able to grip a pencil and move it, you need strong control of the fine muscles in your fingers. Children need lots of opportunity to develop those skills,” Payne said.

But it is possible that this is much ado about nothing. A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy found that pencil grasp pattern had no effect on handwriting ability, speed or legibility in developing children.

In addition, the reality is that we’re rapidly moving toward a future where writing on paper will be a thing of the past.

“There are two schools of thought on this,” says Dr. Daniel Flanders, a pediatrician at Kindercare Pediatrics in Toronto.

“One school believes that learning handwriting is important for children because they think fine motor control and how you organize your thoughts develops with your writing skills. But the other camp believes that we’re moving into a world where [everything] is done on computers, so learning how to write by hand is an outdated skill.”

While Flanders says there’s validity to both sides, he does recognize that digital devices are very likely affecting hand muscle development in kids.

“It’s probably true to a certain extent. While parents are getting kids proficient at writing on keyboards now, 40 years ago they were probably teaching them how to use pens,” he says.

READ MORE: This is the text slang all parents should know

Of course, there are so many other concerns when it comes to kids and devices with regard to social interaction and the development of emotion.

“Whilst there are many positive aspects to the use of technology, there is growing evidence on the impact of more sedentary lifestyles and increasing virtual social interaction as children spend more time indoors online and less time physically participating in active occupations,” Karin Bishop, an assistant director at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, told The Guardian.

Flanders echoes those concerns, and points to emerging literature that indicates that extended screen time may be creating problems for children, including an increased prevalence of ADHD, a lack of good interpersonal skills and an expectation of instant gratification.

But he also doesn’t think that it will result in scaling back on tech in the classroom.

“Right now, schools are still emphasizing learning the alphabet by tracing the letters with their fingers and writing them out with pen and paper,” Flanders says.

“But I think 30 or 40 years from now, that’s going to be a thing of the past.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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