Kids Use Screens So Much They Can't Hold A Damn Pencil

by Jerriann Sullivan
Image via Nicholas Prylutskyy/Getty Images

Kids struggling with holding pencils because of tech

We love our devices, but according to pediatric doctors, too much tech is preventing kids from holding a pencil correctly. It might seem like a small issue, but the problem can set children back in school and take a long time to correct.

Since tablets and touchscreen phones don’t require a lot of fine motor skills, kids aren’t developing the muscles enough, which results in difficulties holding a pen or pencil. “Children are not coming into school with the hand strength and dexterity they had 10 years ago,” Sally Payne told The Guardian. Payne is the head pediatric occupational therapist at Heart of England hospitals. “Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly not be able to hold it because they don’t have the fundamental movement skills.”

Even though we use our hands to grip an iPad or cell phone, we don’t use the fine muscles in our fingers, which are crucial to gripping a writing instrument. “Children need lots of opportunities to develop those skills,” Payne explained. “It’s easier to give a child an iPad than encouraging them to do muscle-building play such as building blocks, cutting and sticking, or pulling toys and ropes. Because of this, they’re not developing the underlying foundation skills they need.”

And while it seems like a quick fix, it isn’t. For example, six-year-old Patrick has been going to an occupational therapist every week for six months to build up the strength in his fingers to hold a pencil correctly. “In retrospect, I see that I gave Patrick technology to play with,” his mom Laura shared. “When he got to school, they contacted me with their concerns: he was gripping his pencil like cavemen held sticks. He just couldn’t hold it in any other way and so couldn’t learn to write because he couldn’t move the pencil with any accuracy.”

In addition to having your kids play with a variety of toys, there are other things you can do to help ensure they’ll be able to hold a pencil. First, you’ll want to teach them what experts agree is the correct way to hold a writing instrument: the tripod grip, where you hold the pencil with your index and thumb and rest it on your middle fingers.

After you teach them the technique, make sure your kids hold their crayons, markers, and pencils in this way. And when they’re playing on a tablet use an electronic pencil or stylus so they get used to holding a writing implement. Of course, limiting their tech time won’t hurt either.