Generally speaking, living in today’s digital world is having detrimental effects on the development and refinement of fine motor skills.
Fine motor skills require the use of the small muscles in your body. Techinically this includes the movements made by your hands, wrists, fingers, toes, tongue and lips. However, this discussion is going to focus on the small muscles used to move your fingers, hands and wrists.
There are also intrinsic reasons an individual may have poorly developed fine motor skills including having an overall low muscle tone causing poor posture and weak core strength and they may have difficulty with hand-eye coordination. In some instances, individuals may even mee the diagnostic criteria for dysgraphia.
The modern convieniences in today’s society have reduced the need for many activities that help develop and maintain the strength in these muscles.
Problems with fine motor skills are becoming more and more frequent. One of the reasons can be traced back to what young children are doing during their day.
Today’s children are spending more time in a digital world, spending time in a desk at school or taking part in structured activities and organized sports where they tend to repeat similar movements during the practices, drills and games.
Countless daily tasks require you to use fine motor skills and for someone with poorly developed fine motor skills, these tasks can be overwhelming.
Take a minute and imagine how hard it would be for you to go through your day wearing a pair of mittens and not being able to take the mittens off to make it easier for you to perform ‘simple tasks’. This is what it can be like for someone with poor muscle development in their hands. Their fingers can fumble every time they try to fasten the buttons, zippers and snaps on their clothing, put their shoes on (especially if they have to tie up laces), eat with a knife and fork or try to write something down.
This deficit is becoming such a wide scale problem in today’s society, and recently the BBC has even published an article with the title “Surgery students ‘losing dexterity to stitch patients’.” It discusses how the decline in crafting skills and increase in screen time has caused a decrease in the hand strength and manual dexterity of medical students. Professor Kneebone mentions how students are at the top of their game academically but they lack the fine motor skills to cut, sew and make things with their hands. This is problematic because they are not able to properly stitch up their patients!
Preschool and elementary school teachers are on the front line and see the effects close up because the skills that they work on during school hours depend on their students using their fine motor skills. Today, some children are having problems with tasks that children have been doing for over a century such as:
– playing with building blocks
– cutting paper and use glue sticks for art projects
– using a pencil, marker or crayon for printing and drawing
– sharpening a pencil
– having the endurance to take print throughout the day
– opening their backpacks to pack them up at the end of the day
– taking out their lunch and opening the containers
* Please note that underdeveloped fine motor skills may be a symptom of dysgraphia (a neurological disorder that affects written expression). If you are concerned that this might be the cause of the poor fine motor skill development, please speak to an Educational Psychologist or your family doctor. You can also look at the excellent resources available at www.understood.org like Dysgraphia: Your Questions Answered or Understanding Dysgraphia